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Pentagon: Deadly Kabul Strike an Error 09/18 10:22

   The Pentagon has retreated from its defense of a drone strike that killed 
multiple civilians in Afghanistan last month, announcing that a review revealed 
that only civilians were killed in the attack, not an Islamic State extremist 
as first believed.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon has retreated from its defense of a drone 
strike that killed multiple civilians in Afghanistan last month, announcing 
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 Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. 
Central Command, told a Pentagon news conference Friday.

   McKenzie apologized 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 Aug. 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.

   The airstrike was the last of a U.S. war that ended as it had begun in 2001 
-- with the Taliban in power in Kabul. The speed with which the Taliban overran 
the country took the U.S. government by surprise and forced it to send several 
thousand troops to the Kabul airport for a hurried evacuation of Americans, 
Afghans and others. The evacuation, which began Aug. 14, unfolded under a 
near-constant threat of attack by the Islamic State group's Afghanistan 
affiliate.

   McKenzie, who oversaw U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, including a 
final evacuation of U.S. 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 U.S. forces," he added, 
referring to the Islamic State group's Afghanistan affiliate.

   Prior to the strike, U.S. intelligence had indicated a likelihood that a 
white Toyota Corolla would be used in an attack against U.S. forces, McKenzie 
said. On the morning of Aug. 29, such a vehicle was detected at a compound in 
Kabul that U.S. intelligence in the preceding 48 hours had determined was used 
by the Islamic State group to plan and facilitate attacks. The vehicle was 
tracked by U.S. drone aircraft from that compound to numerous other locations 
in the city before the decision was made to attack it at a point just a couple 
of miles from Kabul airport, McKenzie said.

   "Clearly our intelligence was wrong on this particular white Toyota 
Corolla," he said.

   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.

   Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters two 
days after the attack that it appeared to have been a "righteous" strike and 
that at least one of the people killed was a "facilitator" for the Islamic 
State group's Afghanistan affiliate, which had killed 169 Afghan civilians and 
13 American service members in a suicide bombing on Aug. 26 at the Kabul 
airport.

   After McKenzie's remarks on Friday, Milley expressed regret.

   "This is a horrible tragedy of war and it's heart wrenching," Milley told 
reporters traveling with him in Europe. "We are committed to being fully 
transparent about this incident."

   "In a dynamic high-threat environment, the commanders on the ground had 
appropriate authority and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid, 
but after deeper post-strike analysis our conclusion is that innocent civilians 
were killed," Milley added.

   Accounts from the family of the victims, documents from colleagues seen by 
The Associated Press, and the scene at the family home -- where Zemerai 
Ahmadi's car was struck by a Hellfire missile just as he pulled into the 
driveway -- all painted a picture of a family that had worked for Americans and 
were trying to gain visas to the United States, fearing for their lives under 
the Taliban.

   The family said that when the 37-year-old Zemerai, alone in his car, pulled 
up to the house, he honked his horn. His 11-year-old son ran out and Zemerai 
let the boy get in and drive the car into the driveway. The other kids ran out 
to watch, and the Hellfire missile incinerated the car, killing seven children 
and an adult son and nephew of Zemerai.

   Amnesty International, the humanitarian aid group, called the U.S. 
military's admission of a mistake a good first step.

   "The U.S. must now commit to a full, transparent, and impartial 
investigation into this incident," said Brian Castner, a senior crisis adviser 
with Amnesty International. "Anyone suspected of criminal responsibility should 
be prosecuted in a fair trial. Survivors and families of the victims should be 
kept informed of the progress of the investigation and be given full 
reparation."

   Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House 
Intelligence Committee, said a fuller explanation must be provided.

   "We need to know what went wrong in the hours and minutes leading up to the 
strike to prevent similar tragedies in the future," he said. "I am also 
concerned about the accuracy and completeness of public statements made in the 
immediate aftermath of the strike, and whether those accounted for all of the 
information possessed by the government at the time."

 
 
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