Pentagon releases footage of the botched Afghanistan drone strike that killed 10 civilians, including 7 children

Photo taken on Sept. 18, 2021 shows a damaged vehicle at a site of U.S. drone strike in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. The U.S. military admitted in September that a U.S. drone strike in late August in Kabul killed as many as 10 civilians, including 7 children.

The New York Times obtained videos from the US military of a drone strike in Afghanistan that killed civilians.
The August 29 strike killed 10 civilians, including 7 children, and has been called a “tragic mistake.”
The US military initially called it a “righteous strike,” believing it had eliminated a terrorist threat.

The US military released newly-declassified videos of a drone strike that mistakenly killed 10 civilians in the final days of the war in Afghanistan to The New York Times.

On August 29, 2021, just days after a terrorist attack at the airport in Kabul killed nearly 200 people, including 13 US service members, the US military carried out a drone strike against a vehicle that intelligence indicated was part of a planned follow-on attack.

In the aftermath, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said it was a “righteous strike” on what was thought to be a terrorist target.

But in September, The New York Times reported that the vehicle the drone struck belonged to an aid worker, not an ISIS fighter, and that the strike had killed nearly a dozen civilians — including 7 children.

The videos of the strike, which The Times obtained from US Central Command through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and published Wednesday, show surveillance of white Toyota Corolla by two MQ-9 Reaper drones.

Before a Hellfire missile destroyed the vehicle, the US military had been monitoring and tracking the car for hours. The military thought it was carrying explosives and being operated by a member of ISIS-K, an Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan.

The car was actually being driven by Zemari Ahmadi, a member of the California-based aid organization Nutrition and Education International.

After the Times report in September, the US military publicly acknowledged that an investigation into the drone strike had confirmed the report, and Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, said that he was “convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to 7 children, were tragically killed.”

The general said that although there was reasonable certainty at the time of the strike that the car was an imminent threat, an investigation later demonstrated that the strike was what McKenzie called a “tragic mistake.”

Lt. Gen. Sami Said, the Air Force inspector general who had been tasked with conducting an independent investigation, said in November that while the mistaken strike was based on misguided assumptions and confirmation bias, the review did not find any evidence of misconduct or “violations of law or the law of war.”

In December, The New York Times reported that no one involved in the drone strike will receive any form of punishment.

“What we saw here was a breakdown in process, and execution in procedural events, not the result of negligence, not the result of misconduct, not the result of poor leadership,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters at the time, adding that he did not “anticipate there being issues of personal accountability to be had.”

In a statement to The New York Times, US Central Command reiterated past Pentagon apologies, stating that “we deeply regret the loss of life that resulted from this strike.”

McKenzie in September told the House Armed Services Committee that the US military was aware within four to five hours that the August 29 strike “hit civilians.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during the same hearing confirmed that the military knew civilians were killed “several hours” after the strike.

But it took weeks for the Pentagon to fully acknowledge that civilians were killed in the botched strike.

CENTCOM’s initial statement on the strike said, “We are assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, though we have no indications at this time.”

In a statement that followed, CENTCOM added, “We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today. We are still assessing the results of this strike … We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life.”

After reporting from the Times and Washington Post began to undermine the Pentagon’s initial narrative on the strike, the military on September 17 offered a full admission that civilians had been killed.

“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,” McKenzie said at that time. 

The Pentagon does not have a strong track record when it comes to transparency surrounding drone strikes, which has led to frequent criticism from human rights groups. 

“In the past, the US has often refused to admit that the victims were civilians, even when confronted with detailed evidence from groups like Amnesty International and others demonstrating the victims’ civilian status,” Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA’s director of Security With Human Rights, told Insider in September. 

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