After insisting it had been a “righteous strike,” the Pentagon finally faced up to the facts and acknowledged that the last U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan before the withdrawal of American troops was a “horrible mistake” that killed 10 civilians, including as many as seven children. The admission came after news organizations, including the New York Times and Washington Post, had published reports casting doubt on the official version of events that claimed the Aug. 29 drone strike had stopped an imminent attack on the Kabul airport.
Military officials now admit that pretty much everything they believed when they carried out the strike was wrong. The driver that the drone targeted and officials believed was a terrorist was actually Zamarai Ahmadi, a longtime aid worker for a U.S.-based group. Officials believed he had loaded explosives in the trunk of a white Toyota, but in fact he was likely carrying water bottles. At first, the military had said a secondary explosion at the time of the strike proved the car was loaded with explosives, but now it seems likelier that it was a propane or gas tank that went up in flames with the strike.
“We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced, and that Mr. Ahmadi was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “We apologize, and we will endeavor to learn from this horrible mistake.”
The killing of civilians is raising questions about the ability of the United States to carry out drone strikes in the country after withdrawal considering the severe lack of intelligence on the ground. Plus it provides new fuel for critics of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, which was marked by chaos and tragedy. The drone strike took place mere days after an ISIS suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. troops and at least 170 Afghans at the Kabul airport. Gen. Frank McKenzie, who heads U.S. Central Command, said Friday that an ongoing probe is considering whether anyone would be held responsible and the government is analyzing compensation for the victims’ families. But he dismissed speculation that this would impact future actions in Afghanistan. “I don’t think you should draw any conclusions about our ability to strike in Afghanistan against ISIS-K targets in the future based on this particular strike,” McKenzie said.