A Pentagon review has concluded that the US drone strike that killed innocent Kabul civilians and children in the final days of the Afghanistan war was not caused by misconduct or negligence, and no disciplinary action was recommended.
The review by Air Force Lt. Gen. Sami Said found there were breakdowns in communication and in the process of identifying and confirming the target of the bombing. He concluded that the mistaken strike happened despite prudent measures to prevent civilian deaths.
“I found that given the information they had and the analysis that they did — I understand they reached the wrong conclusion, but … was it reasonable to conclude what they concluded based on what they had? It was not unreasonable. It just turned out to be incorrect,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“The investigation found no violation of law, including the law of war."
Lt Gen Said is the inspector general of the Air Force and is considered independent as he had no direct connection to Afghanistan operations.
Lt Gen Said’s review said the drone strike must be considered in the context of the moment, as US forces, under stress, were being flooded by information about threats to troops and civilians at the Kabul airport days after a deadly suicide bombing.
Thousands of Afghans were swarming the airport, trying to leave the country following the Taliban takeover.
The intelligence about the car and its potential threat came days after an ISIS suicide bomber killed 13 US troops and 169 Afghans at a Kabul airport gate.
The US was working to fly out thousands of Americans, Afghans and other allies following the collapse of the country’s government.
“You have to put yourself into the conditions that existed at the time,” Lt Gen Said said.
Lt Gen Said found that better communication between those making the strike decision and other support personnel might have raised more doubts about the bombing, but in the end may not have prevented it.
He was asked to investigate the August 29 drone strike on a white Toyota Corolla sedan, which killed Zemerai Ahmadi and nine family members, including seven children. Ahmadi, 37, was a longtime employee of an American humanitarian organisation.
He concluded that US forces genuinely believed that the car they were following was an imminent threat and that they needed to strike it before it came closer to the airport.
“Regrettably, the interpretation of the correlation of the intelligence to what was being perceived at the time in real time was inaccurate,” he clarified.
“In fact, the vehicle, its occupant and contents did not pose any risk to US forces.”
The report, which has been endorsed by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, made several recommendations that have been passed on to commanders at US Central Command and US Special Operations Command.
Lt Gen Said also recommended that the military improve its procedures to ensure that children and other innocent civilians are not present before launching a time-sensitive strike.
For days after the strike, Pentagon officials asserted that it had been conducted correctly, despite mounting reports that several civilians and children had died and growing doubts that the car contained explosives.
The inspector general's review concluded that officials made their initial assessments too quickly and did not do enough analysis.
While Lt Gen Said’s report did not find individual fault or recommend discipline, commanders may decide to take administrative action once they review it.
The US is working to pay financial reparations to the family and potentially fly them out of Afghanistan, but nothing has been finalised.
Mr Austin has asked that Gen Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, and Gen Richard Clarke, head of US Special Operations Command, come back to him with recommendations for changes to address the gaps.