Sunday, May 28

Pentagon watchdog finds no misconduct in flawed Afghan airstrike

An independent Pentagon review has concluded that the US drone strike that killed innocent Kabul civilians and children in the final days of the Afghanistan war was not caused by misconduct or negligence, and does not recommend any disciplinary action.

The review, conducted by Air Force Lieutenant General Sami Said, found that there were failures in communication and in the process of identifying and confirming the target of the bombing. Said concluded that the wrong attack occurred despite prudent measures to prevent civilian deaths.

“I found that given the information they had and the analysis they did, I understand that they came to the wrong conclusion, but … was it reasonable to conclude what they concluded based on what they had? It was not unreasonable. It just turned out to be wrong, ”Said said. He is the inspector general of the Air Force and is considered independent, as he had no direct connection to operations in Afghanistan.

His review said the drone strike should be viewed in the context of the moment, as US forces under strain were being inundated with information about threats to troops and civilians at Kabul airport, just days after a deadly suicide bombing. . Thousands of Afghans swarmed the airport, trying to leave the country after the Taliban takeover.

Said found that better communication between those who made the decision to strike and other support personnel might have raised more questions about the bombing, but in the end, it may not have prevented it.

Said was asked to investigate the Aug. 29 drone attack on a white Toyota Corolla sedan, which killed Zemerai Ahmadi and nine family members, including seven children. Ahmadi, 37, was a former employee of an American humanitarian organization.

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Intelligence about the car and its possible threat came just days after an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 13 American soldiers and 169 Afghans outside the Kabul airport. The United States was working to evacuate thousands of Americans, Afghans and other allies after the collapse of the country’s government.

Said concluded that the US forces actually believed that the car they were following was an imminent threat and that they should attack it before it approached the airport.

“They all have a genuine belief based on the information they had and the interpretation that this was a threat to US forces, an imminent threat to US forces,” he told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon. “That is an error. It is a regrettable mistake. It is an honest mistake. I understand the consequences, but it is not criminal conduct, random conduct, negligence. “

He said repeated reviews of the video from that day showed that two minutes before the attack began, there was evidence that a child was in the attack zone.

Said, who said he saw the video himself, said the troops in the attack cell did not see the boy.

“I’m just saying it’s not 100% obvious,” he said. “You have to be like, I’m not kidding, looking for it. But when you’re looking for it, certainly after the fact, if you ask me, was there evidence of the presence? Yes, there was.”

Steven Kwon, president of Nutrition and Education International, which employed Ahmadi, said he was deeply disappointed with the review.

“According to the Inspector General, there was a mistake but no one was wrong, and I am left wondering, how can that be?” Kwon said in a statement. “Clearly, good military intentions are not enough when the result is the loss of ten precious Afghan civilian lives and the ruin of reputation.”

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The report, which has been endorsed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, made several recommendations that have been relayed to the commanders of the United States Central Command and Special Operations Command. The review recommends that more be done to prevent what military officials call “confirmation bias” – the idea that the troops who made the attack decision were too quick to conclude that what they were seeing aligned with intelligence and confirmed his conclusion to bombing what turned out to be the wrong car.

Specifically, the review said that the military should have personnel present with a strike team, and their job should be to actively question such findings. The report says that the use of a “red team” in those self-defense attacks that are carried out quickly could help avoid mistakes.

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

Those changes, he said, could “go a long way toward mitigating the risk of this happening again” in these kinds of fast-moving self-defense attacks.

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

While Said’s report finds no individual flaws or recommends discipline, he said commanders can decide to take administrative action once they review their report. He said commanders can look at the report and determine that there was “poor performance” and decide to downgrade, retrain or fire staff.

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“You shouldn’t get the fact that I didn’t call on any individual to take responsibility that doesn’t mean the chain of command won’t,” he said.

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

A second defense official said Austin has asked that Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of the U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Richard Clarke, chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command, return to him with recommendations for changes to address the issues. gaps.

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

The Central Command review found that US forces tracked the car for approximately eight hours and launched the attack with a “serious belief”, based on a standard of “reasonable certainty”, that it posed an imminent threat to US troops in the area. Kabul airport. The car is believed to have had explosives in its trunk.

The airstrike was the latest in an American war that ended a few days later, when the last American troops flew out of Kabul airport, leaving the Taliban in power.

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