U.S. acknowledges second air strike in Kabul killed innocent civilians

A Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) comes into land at Kandahar Airbase in Helmand, Afghanistan. Photographer: Fg Off Owen Cheverton

Earlier today, reports from the Pentagon confirmed what many had believed prior; the second airstrike in Kabul failed to hit ISIS-K militants.

In a statement released by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the Department of Defense confirmed and apologized for the mistake. Secretary Austin claimed that the U.S. military was the military taking the most effort in ensuring minimal civilian casualties, and gave assurances that measures would be taken to ensure it could not happen again.

To that end, I have directed a thorough review of the investigation just completed by U.S. Central Command.  I have asked for this review to consider the degree to which the investigation considered all available context and information, the degree to which accountability measures need be taken and at what level, and the degree to which strike authorities, procedures and processes need to be altered in the future. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin via DoD Statement

Weeks ago, the Pentagon gave very vague details regarding its operation, saying that a high-profile target had been killed. These reports conflicted with videos in Kabul, which quickly appeared through social media showcasing the damage done by the airstrike. The demolished target (a 1996 Toyota sedan) was in a clearly urban area and was driven by a long-time U.S. supporter, Zemari Ahmadi.

It seems erroneous intelligence reports connected the man to an ISIS-K warehouse as he left for work. After loading ‘suspicious packages’ (later revealed to be water containers), the drone operator made the decision to fire a missile. Though a quick scan indicated none were in the vicinity of the strike area, Mr. Ahmadi’s children and nephews ran out to greet him.

The U.S. launched the airstrike in response to a suicide bombing by ISIS-K, a terrorist organization whose attack killed hundreds, including 13 U.S. servicemen.

The Taliban government has stated its commitment to hunt and pursue those responsible, as parts of its wider claims that it will ensure Afghanistan does not become a region from which terrorists can freely operate once more. It should be important to note; despite Taliban assurances, al Qaeda members have been returning to Afghanistan in masse.

As the U.S. shifts its military agenda to maritime regions, it will have to continue to contend with inland terrorist groups seeking to attack American citizens and allies abroad. But a substantial amount of oversight and responsibility must be taken to minimize casualties in the future, even over the course of a hectic evacuation. In particular, extreme consideration should be taken in regards to the conducting of airstrikes in dense, urban centers, where the population density of a small area can change drastically in moments.

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