On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed that a US drone strike carried out in Afghanistan on Aug. 29 meant to take out members of ISIS-K had claimed the lives of 10 civilians, including seven children.
It appears that what were initially thought to be explosives carried in a vehicle turned out to be "most likely water bottles," and that the "white Toyota sedan struck by the drone's Hellfire missile" actually "posed no threat at all," investigators concluded, according to The New York Times.
"The Pentagon acknowledged on Friday that a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan on Aug. 29 that officials said was necessary to prevent an attack on American troops was a tragic mistake that killed 10 civilians, including seven children," an American military official familiar with the investigation told The Times.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, was asked at a Pentagon news conference if the US will "release the report of [the] investigation" into what is known now as a mistaken drone strike that killed innocent Afghan civilians. "Did you have forces on the ground that helped you conduct this strike?" a reporter asked McKenzie. "No, we did not. As you know, no time were our forces really away from Hamad Karzai International Airfield," the general responded.
The Pentagon continued to retreat from its defense of the US drone strike, announcing Friday that an internal review revealed that only civilians were killed in the attack, not an Islamic State extremist as first believed.
"We now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K or a direct threat to US forces," McKenzie said of the airstrike at a briefing, following an investigation by the US military.
McKenzie said that he still rejected comparing August's drone strike in Afghanistan to an over-the-horizon strike and said the vehicle was struck "in the earnest belief" that the targeted vehicle posed an imminent threat.
"I appreciate the opportunity to take responsibility for this, because I do feel responsible for it," McKenzie conceded during closing remarks.
"It was a mistake, and I offer my sincere apologies," McKenzie declared.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on the Aug. 29 drone strike: "Things that I said obviously have not turned out to be correct. It was done in as good faith and effort as possible to be as transparent as we could with what we knew at the time."
Kirby added that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with the French Minister of Defense. "It was clear from the discussion [between Austin and the French official] that there is still much work to do in terms of our defense relationship with France [...] There are opportunities and shared challenges," Kirby stated.
"On behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defense, I offer my deepest condolences to surviving family members of those who were killed, including Mr. Ahmadi, and to the staff of Nutrition and Education International, Mr. Ahmadi's employer," Austin said in a lengthy statement on the investigation's findings. "We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced, and that Mr. Ahmadi was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed."
"We apologize, and we will endeavor to learn from this horrible mistake," Austin added, saying that officials "will scrutinize not only what we decided to do -- and not do -- on the 29th of August, but also how we investigated those outcomes."
"We owe that to the victims and their loved ones, to the American people and to ourselves," Austin said in the Department of Defense press release.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was under pressure by the Senate on Thursday, as Sen. Rand Paul had cutting questions for him regarding the tragic incident.
"So you don't know if it was an aid worker or an ISIS-K operative?" Paul asked.
"Uh. I can't speak to that, and I can't speak to that in this setting in any event," Blinken remarked. "So you don't know or you won't tell us?" Paul inquired further. "I don't — I don't know, because we're reviewing it," Blinken replied.
The New York Times had raised doubts about the Biden administration's version of events, reporting that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization and citing an absence of evidence to support the Pentagon’s assertion that the vehicle contained explosives.
This is a breaking story and will be updated as more details become available.
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