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Errant Kabul drone strike was 'deadly blunder,' US military misled public about children killed: report

After reviewing an internal U.S. military investigation of the 2021 U.S. drone strike that killed civilians in Kabul, the New York Times called the attack a "deadly blunder."

A New York Times report on the investigation into how the U.S. military conducted a drone strike that killed several civilians, including children, in Afghanistan last year, characterized the attack as a "deadly blunder" that was motivated by the "assumptions and biases" of those conducting the strike.

The report also claimed that the U.S. military was aware that innocent children had been killed in the attack only hours after the strike, and it made "misleading" statements to the public about that reality.

The Times report noted that through a FOIA request, it obtained internal documents from a U.S. Central Command investigation into the August 2021 U.S. drone strike that killed 10 civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan. 


The strike happened just days after the U.S.’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan that led the deaths of 13 U.S. service members after an ISIS terrorist bombing just outside one of the entrances to the Kabul airport. 

As The New York Times stated upon reviewing the "66 partially redacted pages" of the investigation, "assumptions and biases led to the deadly blunder." 

It elaborated: "Military analysts wrongly concluded, for example, that a package loaded into the car contained explosives because of its ‘careful handling and size,’ and that the driver’s ‘erratic route’ was evidence that he was trying to evade surveillance."

Intelligence proved after the fact that the driver of the car was Zemari Ahmadi, a man who "worked as an electrical engineer for a California-based aid group" and "had spent the day picking up his employer’s laptop, taking colleagues to and from work and loading canisters of water into his trunk to bring home to his family."

The report noted that military documents revealed that the U.S. military was on heightened alert for "an imminent attack on the airport that could involve suicide bombers," which would purportedly involve a "white Toyota Corolla," like the one Ahmadi drove. 

The documents detailed how U.S. intelligence analysts saw that Ahmadi had "’carefully loaded" a ‘package’ into the trunk" and assessed "the package to be explosives ‘based on the careful handling and size of the material.’"

Such "assumptions" led to the drone strike that killed Ahmadi and nine other civilians. The Times spoke to American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Hina Shamsi, who represented the families of the victims. She claimed the investigation "makes clear that military personnel saw what they wanted to see and not reality, which was an Afghan aid worker going about his daily life."


According to the Times, the investigation showed that "military analysts reported within minutes of the strike that civilians may have been killed, and within three hours had assessed that at least three children were killed" in the attack. 

The Times accused U.S. officials of issuing "misleading statements" about these initial assessments.

For instance, the report noted that "Later that day, Central Command said in a statement that officials were ‘assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties’ but had ‘no indications at this time.’"

The report added, "An update several hours later noted that powerful subsequent explosions may have caused civilian casualties but did not mention that analysts had already assessed three children were killed."

It also noted how "Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the strike was 'righteous’ and had killed an ISIS facilitator as well as ‘others,’ but who they were, ‘we don’t know. We’ll try to sort through all of that.’" 

Though the Times didn’t say whether Milley was himself misled, unaware of what analysts had indicated, or looking to mislead the public on the attack. 

The Times did note that the Pentagon "continued to say that an ISIS target was killed in the strike, even as evidence mounted to the contrary." 

Only a week after the outlet’s September 2022 investigation into the witness accounts and video footage of the attack was published, did military officials acknowledge "that 10 civilians had been killed and that Mr. Ahmadi posed no threat and had no connection to ISIS," The New York Times asserted. 

According to the report, the military investigation had never been released to the public though it had been completed only "a week and a half after the strike."

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