A top United States military commander acknowledged on Friday that an airstrike conducted in Kabul on August 29 to target suspected Islamic State-Khorasan terrorists was a “tragic mistake”.
General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, made the statement while announcing the findings of an investigation that was ordered after reports that civilians died in the strike.
The airstrike was conducted to target a vehicle that was ferrying people whom American officials had then described as “multiple suicide bombers” from the terrorist group.
The strike was conducted three days after a bomb blast outside the Kabul airport that killed at least 170 people, including 13 US troops. The blast took place amid efforts to evacuate people from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country.
At the time, US Navy Captain Bill Urban had said that authorities were confident that they had successfully hit the target, but had said that there may have been civilian casualties.
General McKenzie on Friday said that 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were killed in the strike. “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,” he said.
The general expressed condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed, but maintained that the strike was carried out in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport.
The general said that officials are “exploring the possibility of ex-gratia payments.”
General McKenzie added that the incident should be considered in the context of the ground situation in the aftermath of the attack at the Kabul airport. The official also said that there was a “substantial body of intelligence indicating the imminence of another attack.”
The general said that on August 29, US forces had observed a white Toyota Corolla car for eight hours after seeing at a place that was believed to be where Islamic State terrorists were preparing attacks on the Kabul airport. The officials said three men were seen loading the vehicle with “ items assessed at the time to be explosives” before leaving the spot.
“Clearly our intelligence was wrong on this particular white Toyota Corolla,” he later said in response to a question.
In response to another question, the general asserted that none of the intelligence came from the Taliban.