The Pentagon acknowledged Friday that a drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, had not hit a military target but instead had killed civilians — including up to seven children and a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group. The acknowledgement contradicts earlier assertions that the strike was a successful effort to ward off an attack.
“Our investigation now concludes the strike was a tragic mistake,” Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of U.S. Central Command, said at a news conference Friday.
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The drone strike happened on August 29th, days after a terrorist attack outside the Kabul airport during the massive airlift operation in the final days of the Afghan war. Two suicide bombings killed 13 American service members and 60 Afghans.The U.S. military said the bombing was carried out by ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist organization.
The drone strike targeted a car believed to contain a bomb that ISIS-K was planning to detonate at the Kabul airport. The retaliatory strike destroyed the vehicle believed to contain the bomb, the driver, and several other civilians nearby. The Pentagon initially stood behind its August 29th drone strike, saying that the vehicle targeted with a Hellfire missile contained explosives. But the New York Times reported on September 10th that the man driving the vehicle was an aid worker with an American humanitarian group, and he was likely transporting containers of water.
“I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike,” McKenzie said, adding, “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 U.S. forces.”
The botched retaliatory attack was the final missile fired in Afghanistan and the latest strike in a years-long campaign of drone warfare not only in Afghanistan but across the Greater Middle East and Africa. The U.S. military has used unmanned drones, piloted remotely by service members thousands of miles away, to attack targets in the Middle East since at least the mid-2000s. From 2009 to the end of 2015, the U.S. reported carrying out 473 strikes in “areas of active hostilities” that led to as many as 2,581 combatant deaths and as many as 116 civilian fatalities, according to the data released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
President Obama authorized the first drone strike of his administration within days of taking office, and the use of drones escalated during his eight years in office. The Trump administration went even further with the use of drone warfare while at the same time halting the government’s periodic release of data on the number of strikes and the casualties caused by those strikes.
According to research by the New America Foundation, close to 1,500 civilians were killed in U.S. drone strikes during Obama’s time in office. Internal government documents obtained by The Intercept pointed to much higher civilian casualty rates as the use of drones has escalated in the nation’s war-fighting across the Middle East. One special-operations campaign carried out in Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013 called Operation Haymaker, the Intercept reported, “killed more than 200 people.” But of those fatalities, the story said, “only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”
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