WASHINGTON — A deadly drone attack previously hailed by the Biden administration and Pentagon as a “righteous” strike against terrorists actually killed 10 civilians (including a family, as many as seven children and an Afghan man who worked for an American aid group).
The U.S. Defense Department admitted the Aug. 29 drone strike did not kill any ISIS-K terrorists plotting an attack at Kabul airport during the American military’s chaotic retreat from Afghanistan.
Instead, the Pentagon dispatched a drone aimed at a white Toyota Corolla, a target that was not a terrorist but was instead reported to be a worker for a U.S. nonprofit in Afghanistan. Several children are reported among the victims of the strike including ones as young as ages 2 and 3.
“Having thoroughly reviewed the findings of the investigation and the supporting analysis by inner agency partners, I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians including up to seven children were tragically killed in that strike,” said General Kenneth McKenzie commander of U.S. Central Command in a Friday afternoon briefing.
“Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were 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,” McKenzie said.
The U.S. strike came a few days after a bombing at the Kabul airport blamed on an insurgent group called ISIS-K killed 13 American troops and scores of Afghans near the airport during chaotic evacuation flights.
President Joe Biden vowed revenge for the Aug. 26 attack.
“We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said after the airport attack.
The Pentagon conducted a strike on Aug. 28 in a more remote area of Afghanistan. The U.S. says the attack killed two ISIS-K planners though the Pentagon has not disclosed the names of the targets.
Biden hailed the Aug. 28 attack and promised more attacks before the strike that killed the family of Zemerai Ahmadi, who worked for a California-based nonprofit.
“This strike was not the last. We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay,” Biden said in a statement after the first air assault.
Pentagon officials said Friday they are exploring restitution to the families of those killed by the drone strike. Zemerai worked for 15 years for Nutrition & Education International, a California-based nonprofit aimed at countering malnutrition in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.
The drone strike came as the U.S. was evacuating from Afghanistan after a 20-year war and occupation. The Biden administration was facing criticism for its miscalculations on the fast fall of the country to the Taliban and the abrupt closure of U.S. air bases earlier in the summer.
The U.S. has used drones to target enemies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and other countries. Their use has caused civilian deaths and criticism from human rights groups.
“We think that the procedures were correctly followed and this was a righteous strike,” said U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley on Sept. 1.