According to Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top general of US Central Command, a US military investigation into a deadly Kabul drone strike on a vehicle in August found that 10 civilians and the driver were killed, and that the vehicle targeted was not likely a threat associated with ISIS-K.
McKenzie apologized to reporters for the strike, which he said resulted in the deaths of seven children.
“This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport, but it was a mistake and I offer my sincere apology,” he said.
McKenzie added that he is “fully responsible for this strike and this tragic outcome.”
The Pentagon’s announcement is likely to fuel more criticism of Vice President Joe Biden’s administration’s chaotic evacuation of Kabul and overall handling of the Afghan withdrawal. While McKenzie stressed on Friday that future strikes will almost certainly be held to a higher standard, confirmation of the civilian death toll also sheds light on the challenges ahead for military and intelligence officials tasked with making the terror group “pay” for its deadly suicide attack in Kabul, as promised by President Joe Biden.
According to the Pentagon, at least one ISIS-K facilitator and three civilians were killed in a “righteous strike” on the compound on August 29 by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. All of those killed in the residential compound were civilians, according to the investigation released on Friday.
Drone operators surveilled the courtyard for up to 5 minutes in the run-up to the strike. A male driver exited the vehicle during this time. According to the Ahmadi family, one child was parking the vehicle and other children were present in the car and courtyard.
To launch the strike on the vehicle, the military used a reasonable certainty standard. A US military official familiar with the investigation told CNN earlier Friday that it was the wrong vehicle, but that reasonable certainty does not equal 100 percent certainty.
“We didn’t take the strike because we thought we were wrong — we took the strike because we thought we had a good target,” McKenzie said. While he acknowledged that the strike “was a terrible mistake,” he said he would “not qualify the entire operation” as a failure.
Asked by a reporter to explain how the “complete and utter failure” could have occurred, McKenzie said, “While I agree that this strike certainly did not come up to our standards and I profoundly regret it, I would not qualify the entire operation in those terms.”
“Significant secondary explosions” were previously cited by US Central Command as proof of a “substantial amount of explosive material” in the vehicle. On Friday, a US military source said that after reviewing infrared sensor footage, they would no longer classify the incident as an explosion, but rather as a flare-up.