© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, arrives at Hamid Karzai Worldwide Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on this picture taken on August 17, 2021 and launched by U.S. Navy on August 18, 2021. U.S NAVY/C
By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A drone strike in Kabul final month killed as many as 10 civilians, together with seven youngsters, the U.S. navy mentioned on Friday, apologizing for what it referred to as a “tragic mistake”.
The Pentagon had mentioned the Aug. 29 strike focused an Islamic State suicide bomber who posed an imminent risk to U.S.-led troops on the airport as they accomplished the final phases of their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
At the same time as reviews of civilian casualties emerged, the highest U.S. basic had described the assault as “righteous”.
The pinnacle of U.S. Central Command, Marine Corps Basic Frank McKenzie, mentioned that on the time he had been assured it averted an imminent risk to the forces on the airport.
“Our investigation now concludes that the strike was a tragic mistake,” McKenzie informed reporters.
He mentioned he now believed it unlikely that these killed had been members of the native Islamic State affiliate, ISIS-Khorasan, or posed a risk to U.S. troops. The Pentagon was contemplating reparations, McKenzie mentioned.
The killing of civilians, in a strike carried out by a drone primarily based outdoors Afghanistan, has raised questions on the way forward for U.S. counter-terrorism strikes within the nation, the place intelligence gathering has been all however choked off since final month’s withdrawal.
And the affirmation of civilian deaths offers additional gas to critics of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal and evacuation of Afghan allies, which has generated the largest disaster but for the Biden administration.
In a press release, Protection Secretary Lloyd Austin mentioned the drone strike had killed a Mr. Ahmadi who labored for a non-profit referred to as Vitamin and Training Worldwide.
“We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his actions on that day had been fully innocent and in no way associated to the upcoming risk we believed we confronted,” Austin mentioned within the assertion.
“We apologize, and we are going to endeavor to study from this horrible mistake.”
Whereas it’s uncommon for senior Pentagon officers, together with the protection secretary, to apologize personally for civilians killed in navy strikes, the U.S. navy does publish reviews on civilians killed in operations around the globe.
Stories had emerged virtually instantly that the drone strike in a neighborhood west of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Worldwide Airport had killed civilians together with youngsters. Video from the scene confirmed the wreckage of a automobile strewn across the courtyard of a constructing. A spokesman for Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, Zabihullah Mujahid, mentioned on the time that the assault killed seven folks, and that the Taliban was investigating.
The strike got here three days after an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghan civilians who had crowded outdoors the airport gates, determined to safe seats on evacuation flights, after U.S.-trained Afghan forces melted away and the Taliban swept to energy within the capital.
Following the suicide bombing on the airport, the U.S. navy launched a drone strike in japanese Afghanistan that it mentioned killed two Islamic State militants. That strike shouldn’t be underneath evaluate.
The second, mistaken strike got here because the U.S. navy was on heightened alert, with officers warning they anticipated extra assaults on the airport, together with from rockets and vehicle-borne explosive gadgets, because the Pentagon wrapped up its mission.
Basic Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Employees, appeared responsible the fog of conflict, at the same time as he acknowledged in a press release that the civilian deaths had been “coronary heart wrenching”.
“In a dynamic excessive risk setting, the commanders on the bottom had the suitable authority and had affordable certainty that the goal was legitimate,” Milley mentioned.
The authority to hold out strikes in Afghanistan — in opposition to al Qaeda or Islamic State — won’t relaxation any extra with U.S. commanders within the area, a U.S. protection official informed Reuters, including Austin himself should authorize any future strikes.
Nonetheless, the intelligence failure uncovered in America’s final navy strike of its conflict in Afghanistan raises exhausting questions in regards to the dangers going ahead. These embody whether or not the USA can maintain monitor of al Qaeda and Islamic State threats, and act shortly on any info it will get.
McKenzie performed down the impression the newest civilian casualties would have on future actions in Afghanistan.
“I do not assume you need to draw any conclusions about our capability to strike in Afghanistan in opposition to ISIS-Ok targets sooner or later primarily based on this explicit strike,” he mentioned.