WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has determined its procedures failed to prevent the botched drone strike that killed 10 people in Kabul in August during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But the strike did not break any laws, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Sami Said, the service’s inspector general, who led the Pentagon’s investigation. He described the tragedy as “an honest mistake.”
No single person was responsible for the flawed decisions that led to the airstrike, Said said. His report, which is classified, has been forwarded to commanders who have the authority to discipline those involved, including firing some of them. The officials who authorized the strike, who were located at a military base in Qatar, believed they were “targeting an imminent threat,” Said said.
“The assessment which was primarily driven by interpretation of intelligence and observed movement of the vehicle and occupants over an 8-hour period was regrettably inaccurate,” according to a summary of the report. “In fact, the vehicle, its occupant and contents did not pose any risk to U.S. forces.”
Ten people, including seven children, died in the attack by a Hellfire missile fired by a Reaper drone on Aug. 29. The missile strike came days after terrorists of a self-proclaimed affiliate of the Islamic State called ISIS-K killed 13 U.S. troops and 170 Afghan civilians outside Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Military officials initially announced that the strike had killed at least one suspected suicide bomber from ISIS-K and no civilians. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, labeled the attack “righteous.” But accounts from the site by news media, including The New York Times, showed that civilians, not terrorists, had been killed.
The tragic error underscores the hazard of the Pentagon’s approach to counterterrorism strikes when no U.S. troops or close allies are on the ground to identify legitimate targets. Military officials refer to the long-distance strikes as “over the horizon,” meaning the attacks are informed by spy planes, satellites and intercepted communications.
Said, however, said the botched strike was unlike other “over the horizon” attacks because it was launched relatively quickly and in perceived self-defense. Other counterterrorism strikes have far more time to examine evidence before attacking, Said said.
Investigators interviewed 29 people, 22 of whom were directly involved in the strike, Said said.
The report recommends those involved in developing targets and ordering strikes implement procedures to mitigate confirmation bias, better share information and assess the presence of civilians.
The Pentagon has been exploring ways to compensate family members of the victims.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in U.S. airstrikes in recent years from Africa to Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures. The Pentagon paid out $259,899 during fiscal year 2020 and $858,240 in 2019 to compensate families of those killed, according to the Defense Department.