Head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie confirmed Friday that an investigation determined the U.S. drone strike in Kabul killed multiple civilians, including children, and no ISIS-K members.
The U.S. approved a drone strike against alleged ISIS-K fighters on Aug. 29, just days after a suicide bombing – of which the group took credit for – killed 13 U.S. service members near the Kabul airport amid a mass evacuation effort. The Pentagon first claimed the strike killed at least one ISIS-K member and the vehicle targeted had explosives inside, but reports began surfacing soon after suggesting the U.S. did not hit its intended target.
An investigation published by the New York Times on Sept. 10 included exclusive footage security camera footage and eyewitness accounts that corroborated reports that the drone strike launched by the military didn’t know “whom it was hitting” and ultimately killed innocent Afghans. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley declared it to be a “righteous strike” on Sept. 1.
McKenzie, speaking at the Pentagon press briefing on Friday, backed up these earlier reports. He said he’s “now convinced that as many as ten civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike.” McKenzie also said, “that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those that died were associated with ISIS-K or a direct threat to U.S. forces.”
“I offer my condolences to the family and friends of those killed. This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to forces at the airport. It was a mistake and I offer my sincere apology. As a commander, I’m fully responsible for this strike and its tragic outcome,” he said.
Fox News’ Pentagon reporter Lucas Tomlinson tweeted that “no disciplinary action” is expected and that the “US military stands by intel leading to strike.” McKenzie appeared to stand by the intelligence leading to the strike, saying that the U.S. “felt reasonably certain that this was a legitimate strike on an imminent ISIS-K threat with no indication that the strike would result in civilian casualties.”
“The strike on 29 [of] August must be considered in the context of the situation on the ground in Kabul at the Hamed Karzai Airport following the ISIS-K attack that resulted in the death of 13 soldiers, sailors Marines and more than 100 civilians … on August 26,” he said. “Also with a substantial body of intelligence indicating the immense of another attack.”
McKenzie would not answer whether anyone would be held responsible for the failure, only saying that the Pentagon is “in the process right now of counting that line of investigation.”
McKenzie went into detail regarding the intelligence that the U.S. received and used to carry out the drone strike and asserted that “this was not a rushed strike.” He said the U.S. is “exploring the possibility of ex gratia payments” for family members of those killed.
At one point during the briefing, McKenzie pushed back on one reporter’s characterization that it was “a complete and utter failure.” He said while “this particular strike was a terrible mistake,” they had “conducted a strike a couple days before that was very successful.” This strike occurred one day after the Aug. 26 Kabul airport bombing and is said to have killed two ISIS-K targets and injured a third, according to the Pentagon.
“While I agree with it, this strike certainly did not come up to our standards and I profoundly regret it, I would not qualify the entire operation in those terms,” he told reporters.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Amid the reports swirling shortly after the failed strike, CENTCOM soon admitted that it was “unclear what may have happened.” The strike occurred after President Joe Biden vowed revenge for the Kabul bombing.
“We are assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, though we have no indications at this time,” a first statement from CENTCOM read at the time. (RELATED: CENTCOM Says It’s ‘Unclear What May Have Happened’ In Kabul Drone Strike That Reportedly Killed Civilians)
“We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today. We are still assessing the results of this strike, which we know disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat to the airport,” a follow-up statement sent by spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said. “We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties. It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.