Watchdog finds no misconduct in mistaken Afghan airstrike

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WASHINGTON (AP) – An independent Pentagon study has concluded that the US drone strike who killed innocent civilians and children in Kabul in the closing days of the war in Afghanistan was not caused by fault or neglect, and it does not recommend any disciplinary action, officials said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The article, made by Lieutenant General of the Air Force Sami Said, discovered that there had been breakdowns in communication and in the process of identifying and confirming the target of the attack, according to a senior defense official familiar with the report. But, Said concluded that the strike in error had occurred despite careful measures to prevent the deaths of civilians, said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss a report that has yet to be released. published.

Said told reporters on Wednesday that while his review didn’t single out bad actors or recommend discipline, he doesn’t have the final say.

“I haven’t ruled out the possibility of accountability,” he said. “It’s the commander’s business.”

As an air force inspector, Said had no direct connection with operations in Afghanistan and was therefore considered an independent judge in the matter.

Said’s review said the drone strike should be seen in the context of the moment, as US forces under pressure were inundated with information about threats to troops and civilians at Kabul airport, a few just days after a suicide bombing. Thousands of Afghans were invading the airport, trying to get out of the country after the Taliban took control.

According to the official, Said found that better communication between those who made the decision to strike and other support staff could have raised more doubts about the bombing, but ultimately did not. might not have prevented.

Said was tasked with investigating the August 29 drone strike on a white Toyota Corolla sedan, which killed Zemerai Ahmadi and nine members of his family, including seven children. Ahmadi, 37, was a long-time employee of a US aid organization.

Intelligence on the car and its potential threat came just days after an Islamic state Suicide bomber killed 13 American soldiers and 169 Afghans at a departure gate at Kabul airport. The United States was struggling to evacuate thousands of Americans, Afghans and other allies following the collapse of the country’s government.

Said concluded that US forces sincerely believed that the car they were following was an imminent threat and that they had to hit it before it approached the airport.

The report, which was approved by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, made several recommendations that were passed on to commanders of US Central Command and US Special Operations Command. The official said the review recommends that more be done to prevent what military officials call “confirmation bias” – the idea that the troops making the decision to strike were too quick to conclude that what they saw matched intelligence and confirmed their conclusion to bomb what turned out to be the wrong car.

The review recommends that the military have personnel present with a strike team whose job it is to actively challenge those findings. The report says that using a so-called “red team” in such rapid-fire self-defense strikes could help avoid mistakes.

“If you had someone sitting in the strike cell – the confirmation bias issue – saying, ‘Look, you’re correlating this information to reaffirm that this is the vehicle. But what you reaffirm and the activity you see could be harmful, if you will, but it could also be very benign, ”Said said. “So, stepping back a bit, playing this dialogue to go, what exactly are we looking at?” To assure.”

Operational commanders are reviewing the report to determine how this layer of discussion can be institutionalized in the kind of circumstances on the ground in Kabul in late August, without in-person intelligence gathering and a perceived imminent threat.

Said also recommended that the military improve its procedures to ensure that children and other innocent civilians are not present before launching an urgent strike.

For days after the strike, Pentagon officials claimed that it was conducted correctly, despite growing reports that several civilians and children had died and growing doubts that the car contained explosives. Said’s review concluded that officials made their initial assessments too quickly and did not do enough analysis.

While Said’s report does not find individual fault or recommend discipline, officials said commanders may decide to take administrative action once they review his report.

The United States is working to pay financial reparations family, and potentially get them out of Afghanistan, but nothing has been finalized.

A second defense official said Austin asked General Frank McKenzie, chief of US Central Command, and General Richard Clarke, chief of US Special Operations Command, to come back to him with recommendations for changes. to fill in the gaps.

Said’s review reflects many of the findings McKenzie described several weeks after the investigation.

The Central Command review found that US forces followed the car for about eight hours and launched the strike with a “sincere belief” – based on a standard of “reasonable certainty” – that it posed an imminent threat to the car. US troops at Kabul airport. The car reportedly carried explosives in its trunk.

The airstrike was the latest in an American war that finished a few days later, as the last American troops flew from Kabul airport, leaving the Taliban in power.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at the Military Times. It covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other matters affecting the military. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT


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