Pentagon reverses itself, calls deadly Kabul strike an errorFriday, September 17, 2021
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon retreated from its defense of a drone strike that killed multiple civilians in Afghanistan last month, announcing Friday that a review revealed that only civilians were killed in the attack, not an Islamic State extremist as first believed.
“The strike was a tragic mistake,” Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told a Pentagon news conference.
McKenzie apologised for the error and said the United States is considering making reparation payments to the family of the victims. He said the decision to strike a white Toyota Corolla sedan, after having tracked it for about eight hours, was made in an “earnest belief” — based on a standard of “reasonable certainty” — that it posed an imminent threat to American forces at Kabul airport. The car was believed to have been carrying explosives in its trunk, he said.
For days after the August 29 strike, Pentagon officials asserted that it had been conducted correctly, despite 10 civilians being killed, including seven children. News organizations later raised doubts about that version of events, reporting that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization and citing an absence of evidence to support the Pentagon's assertion that the vehicle contained explosives.
McKenzie, who oversaw US military operations in Afghanistan, including a final evacuation of US forces and more than 120,000 civilians from Kabul airport, expressed his condolences to the family and friends of those killed.
“I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike,” McKenzie said. “Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K or were a direct threat to US forces."
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a written statement, apologized for what he called “a horrible mistake.”
“We now know that there was no connection” between the driver of the vehicle and the Islamic State group and that the driver's activities that day were “completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced,” Austin said.