The Air Force inspector general will lead the review of the erroneous drone strike on August 29 that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, in Kabul, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Sami Said will “investigate the facts and circumstances relating to the civilian casualty event” and report directly to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, who made the appointment. He has 45 days to complete the investigation, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in first announcing the review on Monday, which will include a review of the investigation conducted by US Central Command into the strike.
“Part of that review will be to examine the (Central Command) investigation itself, the thoroughness of the investigation, to study the degree to which any policies, procedures or targeting mechanisms may need to be altered going forward, if any, and of course to then take a look at what levels of accountability might be appropriate, and if so, at what level,” Kirby said at a press briefing Monday afternoon.
For more than two weeks after the August 29 strike, the top levels of the military insisted it had been a justified strike and that it killed an ISIS-K member who posed an imminent threat to US forces at the airport.
On Friday, after multiple media outlets, including CNN, cast serious doubts on the strike, the Pentagon acknowledged “a tragic mistake.”
The commander of US Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, said, “I am here today to set the record straight and acknowledge our mistakes.” The final decision to carry out the strike was made by the strike cell commander in Kabul, who McKenzie said had “reasonable certainty at the time” that the vehicle was an imminent threat.
Moments after the strike was launched, the CIA issued an urgent warning that civilians were likely in the area, including the possibility of children inside the car. But the warning came too late to stop the Hellfire missile from hitting its target. It’s unclear whether the US notified the intelligence community that it was about to carry out the strike.
Only three days earlier, an ISIS-K suicide bomber attacked the Abbey Gate at the Kabul international airport, killing 13 US service members. Officials warned another attack was likely, adding to the sense of urgency around Kabul.
In the days after the strike, Pentagon officials pointed to what they called “significant” secondary explosions as proof that the car was laden with explosives. But there was no telltale evidence of more explosions, according to explosives experts who spoke with CNN, who pointed to limited damage to a nearby car and surrounding walls. The evidence, they said, was consistent with a single explosion from a Hellfire missile.
The target turned out to be 43-year-old Zamarai Ahmadi, an aid worker applying for a visa to take his family to the United States, not an ISIS-K terrorist or facilitator as the military initially claimed.
McKenzie said the US is considering reparations payments to the family of those killed in the strike, though it’s unclear how that would work since there are no longer US troops or officials on the ground in Kabul to make direct contact with the family.
On Monday, Kirby said he believed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would “absolutely support” the family of the victims moving to the United States if that’s what they want.
Asked whether a three-star general would be able to hold higher-ranking officers accountable, Kirby said that the tasking memo makes clear that the reviewing officer must make a note to the defense secretary and Air Force secretary if the officer believes the level of accountability rises to a four-star level.
Said has served as the Air Force inspector general since February 2019. Before that, he served as the service’s deputy inspector general.
From January 2013 to May 2015, Said served in different roles in Afghanistan, first as the deputy coordinating director for the rule of law and enforcement at the embassy in Kabul, then as the chief of combined joint staff for operations, and finally as the military deputy to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He began his career in the Air Force as a fighter pilot.
His report of the investigation will be due November 5.
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