Pentagon eagle insignia (Picture US Department of Defense).
Afghanistan

Afghanistan: US Admits Kabul Drone Strike Was 'Tragic Mistake'

Only civilians were killed in the attack last month, the Pentagon said.

Pentagon eagle insignia (Picture US Department of Defense).

The US Department of Defense has retreated from its defence of a drone strike that killed multiple civilians in Afghanistan last month, announcing an internal review revealed that only civilians were killed in the attack, not an extremist as first believed.

"The strike was a tragic mistake," Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told a Pentagon news conference.

For days after the 29 August strike, Pentagon officials asserted that it had been conducted correctly, despite numerous civilians being killed, including children.

News organisations later raised doubts about that version of events, reporting that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a long-time employee at an American humanitarian organisation and citing an absence of evidence to support the Pentagon's assertion the vehicle contained explosives.

Gen McKenzie said the vehicle was struck "in the earnest belief" that it posed an imminent threat.

"I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike," Gen McKenzie said.

"Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K, or a direct threat to US forces," he added, referring to the Islamic State group's Afghanistan affiliate.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a written statement, apologised for what he called "a horrible mistake".

He said "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".

Kabul airport with US paratroopers conducting security 240821 CREDIT US DOD
Kabul airport with US paratroopers conducting security days before the violence escalated in the area on 24 August (Picture: US Department of Defense).

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 ISIS-K group responsible for the deaths of 169 Afghan civilians and 13 American service members in a suicide bombing on 26 August at Kabul airport.

After Gen McKenzie's remarks, Gen Milley expressed regret.

"This is a horrible tragedy of war and it's heart-wrenching," Gen 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," Gen Milley added.