U.S. Airstrike That Killed 10 Kabul Civilians Was ‘Honest Mistake’ And Not Illegal Act, Pentagon Probe Concludes

The U.S. airstrike on Afghanistan, which misidentified a terrorist threat, and killed 10 civilians, was an honest error, but there were no legal violations or criminal negligence. A Department of Defense investigation found Wednesday that a military camera feed had shown a child close to the target before the botched operation.

The Ahmadi family's relatives and neighbors gathered around the incinerated remains of a vehicle that was... [+] hit by an American drone strike in Kabul (Afghanistan) on Aug. 29. Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Key Facts

Independent investigation found that the three adults and seven children killed in the August strike in Kabul and the vehicle targeted were not a threat to U.S forces. Lt. General Sami Said, the Air Forces inspector, confirmed the Pentagon's findings almost two months ago in a Wednesday press conference. Said admitted that the military had a video feed that showed a child near the strike site two minutes before the launch of the Hellfire missile. However, he stated that the presence of the child was not evident and that his investigators may have seen it later because they were actively searching for one. Said claimed that the military misinterpreted the intelligence it received on the car. This mistake was due to execution errors, confirmation bias, communication breakdowns, and communication problems. According to Said, the strike was aimed at a U.S. force stationed at Kabul's international airport. This is where 13 U.S. military personnel were killed in an Islamic State terrorist attack. They also took steps to reduce civilian casualties. He stressed that the airstrike occurred during a difficult period. The last troops of the Afghan military were due to leave Afghanistan within two days. It was also concerned about possible threats to American forces in Kabul.

Important Quote

Said said that they all believed that the U.S. was a threat. It was a regrettable error. It is an honest error. It is not criminal conduct, although I can understand the consequences.


Said made three suggestions for future airstrikes that are limited in time. He suggested that the military should make more information available to a wider range of personnel and that it review its procedures for scanning civilians. He suggested that the military develop methods to stop personnel drawing unintentional conclusions about possible threats which are in line with their preconceived notions. This concept he called confirmation bias.

What we don't know

The contents of the investigation are not known. Said stated that his report on the strike would remain classified due to the fact that it includes details about military airstrike tactics.

Important Background

The last act of the 20-year US war in Afghanistan was the Kabul airstrike. It ended with the Taliban retaking control of Afghanistan in August. The Kabul airstrike was one of the final acts in the 20-year-old war on Afghanistan. It occurred less than a week before the troops were due to leave. The Washington Post and New York Times later found that the driver of the Corolla was working for a U.S. non-profit and was carrying coworkers and water bottles, not explosives. There wasn't necessarily a secondary explosion from bombs, which military officials initially claimed as proof they had chosen the right target. Mid-September saw the Pentagon admit that the strike had been a terrible mistake, killing 10 civilians.

What to Watch

This strike could raise new questions about the ability of the military to effectively conduct future counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan without an on ground presence. This raises long-standing concerns about civilian casualties in targeted U.S. drone attacks. Said said that the Kabul airstrike was unique and difficult to compare to other airstrikes. It was self-defense and was conducted in a high-risk time period. He also stated that the military considered a threat imminent and had to limit its time.

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Watchdog found no misconduct in an Afghan airstrike that was mistaken (Associated Press).

What is ISIS-K or IS-K? This Afghan Terror Group and Taliban Enemy Are Suspected in the Kabul Airport Bombing. (Forbes)

Drone Airstrike Killed Ten Afghan Civilians and No Terrorist Targets. Pentagon Now Says (Forbes).