WASHINGTON (AP) — No U.S. troops involved in the August drone strike that killed innocent Kabul civilians and children will face disciplinary action, U.S. defense officials said Monday.
Officials said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved recommendations on the disciplinary matter from the generals who lead U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, based on the findings of an independent Pentagon review released last month.
The review, done by Air Force Lt. Gen. Sami Said and endorsed by Austin in November, found there were breakdowns in communication and in the process of identifying and confirming the target of the bombing, which killed 10 civilians, including seven children. But he concluded that the strike was a tragic mistake and not caused by misconduct or negligence.
Austin asked Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of Central Command, and Gen. Richard Clark, head of Special Operations Command, to review Said’s conclusions and come back to him with recommendations. The two commanders agreed with Said’s findings, and did not recommend any discipline, officials said, adding that Austin endorsed their decisions. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss decisions not yet made public. Austin’s latest endorsement was first reported by The New York Times.
The Aug. 29 drone strike on a white Toyota Corolla sedan, killed Zemerai Ahmadi and nine family members, including seven children. Ahmadi, 37, was a longtime employee of an American humanitarian organization.
The intelligence about the car and its potential threat came just days after an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. troops and 169 Afghans at a Kabul airport gate. The U.S. was working to evacuate thousands of Americans, Afghans and other allies in the wake of the collapse of the country’s government.
Said concluded that U.S. forces genuinely believed that the car they were following was an imminent threat and that they needed to strike it before it got closer to the airport. He concluded that better communication between those making the strike decision and other support personnel might have raised more doubts about the bombing, but in the end may not have prevented it.
He made a number of recommendations, including that more be done to prevent what military officials call “confirmation bias” — the idea that troops making the strike decision were too quick to conclude that what they were seeing aligned with the intelligence and confirmed their conclusion to bomb what turned out to be the wrong car.
And he said the military should have personnel present with a strike team, and their job should be to actively question such conclusions. And he recommended that the military improve its procedures to ensure that children and other innocent civilians are not present before launching a time-sensitive strike.
Officials said that McKenzie and Clarke largely agreed with Said’s recommendations.
The U.S. is working to pay financial reparations to the relatives and surviving family members, and potentially get them out of Afghanistan, but nothing has been finalized.
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