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It was mistake, offer sincere apology: Top US military commander on Kabul drone strike

Updated on: 18 September,2021 09:56 AM IST  |  Washington

10 civilians, including seven children, were killed in August 29 drone strike in Afghanistan

It was mistake, offer sincere apology: Top US military commander on Kabul drone strike

Afghan residents and family members of the victims gather next to a damaged vehicle inside a house, day after a US drone airstrike in Kabul. Pic/AFP

The Pentagon on Friday acknowledged that the August 29 drone strike in Afghanistan was a tragic mistake that killed 10 civilians, including seven children. A United States military investigation into a deadly Kabul drone strike on a vehicle in August has found that the vehicle targeted was likely not a threat associated with ISIS-K, announced Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top general of US Central Command, at the Pentagon.

McKenzie told reporters that the strike was a "mistake" and offered an apology. "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 explosives the military claimed were loaded in the trunk of a white Toyota sedan struck by the drone's Hellfire missile were most likely water bottles, and a secondary explosion in the courtyard in a densely populated Kabul neighbourhood where that attack took place was probably a propane or gas tank, the top official said. The official also acknowledged that the driver of the car, Zemari Ahmadi, a long time worker for a US aid group, had nothing to do with Islamic State (ISIS), as military officials had previously asserted.

U.S. forces launched the strike after they had tracked a white Toyota Corolla for eight hours and deemed it an imminent threat, McKenzie said. There had been more than 60 pieces of intelligence at the time that indicated an attack was coming, he said. As many as six Reaper drones had followed the vehicle, he added. The initial report about a secondary explosion was likely caused by a propane tank near the vehicle that blew up, not explosives, he said.

The strike occurred on Aug. 29 near the airport during the final, chaotic days of the U.S. evacuation of civilians and military retreat from Afghanistan. The military claimed at the time that the strike prevented "multiple suicide bombers" from attacking Hamid Karzai International Airport. The statement from U.S. Central Command said the attack had targeted "an imminent ISIS-K threat" and that explosives were being loaded into the vehicle when the Hellfire missile struck it.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin offered deepest condolences to surviving family members of those who were killed. "On behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defense, I offer my deepest condolences to surviving family members of those who were killed, including Ahmadi, and to the staff of Nutrition and Education International, Ahmadi's employer," said Austin in a statement. While apologizing, Austin said that they will endeavour to learn from this horrible mistake.

"To that end, I have directed a thorough review of the investigation just completed by US Central Command. I have asked for this review to consider the degree to which the investigation considered all available context and information, the degree to which accountability measures need be taken and at what level, and the degree to which strike authorities, procedures and processes need to be altered in the future," added Austin statement.

"No military works harder than ours to avoid civilian casualties. When we have reason to believe we have taken an innocent life, we investigate it and, if true, we admit it," added Austin. He reiterated to prevent such recurrence. "We will do that in this case. We will scrutinize not only what we decided to do -- and not do -- on the 29th of August, but also how we investigated those outcomes," added Austin.

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