Pentagon admits error in U.S. drone strike that killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan

The U.S. military on Friday acknowledged that a drone strike in Kabul they initially said killed an ISIS suicide bomber had in fact killed only civilians. The strike took place three weeks ago as the U.S. and allies were evacuating following the Taliban takeover. Nick Schifrin joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Gen. Frank McKenzie, Commander, U.S. Central Command:

    Having thoroughly reviewed the findings of the investigation and the supporting analysis by interagency partners, I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike.

    Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died or associated with ISIS-K or were a direct threat to U.S. forces.

    I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed.

    Amna Nawaz And we turn now to our foreign affairs and defense correspondent, Nick Schifrin.

    Nick, the big question, how did this happen?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, the military got the intelligence horribly and tragically wrong.

    General McKenzie, who we just saw, said, following the August 26 attack that killed almost 200 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, the military had 60 pieces of intelligence, both intercepts and also human intelligence, that indicated an imminent attack, including with a white Toyota Corolla with a car bomb.

    That morning of this attack, a white Toyota Corolla pulled up to what the military believed was an ISIS safe house. And, in fact, the next day, there were ISIS rockets fired nearby.

    But back to the day, McKenzie provided this map to reporters. He said that the military followed the car all up and down those lines for six hours with six drones, watched the driver put jugs in the truck, and park less than two miles from the airport.

    McKenzie said the strike was not rushed. They chose a location they thought was isolated and even had the missile timed so that it would go off inside the car to try and minimize civilian casualties.

    And yet, despite all of those safeguards, what they thought was the right target was the wrong one. And they missed the fact that there was an entire family nearby. We now know that the driver was 43-year-old Zamari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S.-funded aid group.

    The strike killed his children, his nephews and nieces. The U.S. military says it's considering reparations for the family.

    Amna Nawaz It is beyond tragic.

    But, Nick, what does this say about the future of these kinds of airstrikes in Afghanistan?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes.

    So these are the so-called over-the-horizon airstrikes, counterterrorism airstrikes that the U.S. has been talking about. McKenzie said that this strike was about an imminent threat, and that future strikes would actually have more time, that the drones would have more time to surveil and establish what the military calls a pattern of life.

    And senior U.S. officials say that these strikes will have a very high bar. They will only target people inside Afghanistan planning attacks on the U.S. and its allies.

    But, Amna, the fact is that previous counterterrorism airstrikes with that extra time, with what the military believed at the time of these strikes was the established pattern of life, they believed they were hitting terrorists, even those strikes have caused civilian casualties.

    Some intelligence officials are joking to me that what the military calls over the horizon is in fact over the rainbow. And the fact is, at the end of this, this investigation reveals the final action that the U.S. military took offensively in Afghanistan, after 20 years of war, killed an aid worker, U.S.-funded aid worker, who was trying to develop Afghanistan,

    Amna Nawaz Just incredible, incredible, and incredible reporting.

    Thank you for making sense of it all, Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you. Thank you.

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