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Pentagon probe found no negligence in botched Kabul airstrike that killed 10 civilians

A review by the inspector general of the Air Force found no violation of law, no negligence and no dereliction of duty in the Kabul strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians. But the review has been referred to the chain of command to determine whether any disciplinary action should be taken.

Air Force Inspector General Lieutenant General Sami Said, who led the investigation of the strike at the direction of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, concluded the strike was "an honest mistake."

According to a review of the footage, the investigation found that video two minutes before the weapon was launched showed one child in the compound. But no one saw the child in the video in real time. The strike ultimately killed seven children and three men. 

"They 100% did not pick up on the child," according to Said.

Aftermath of the drone attack in Afghan capital Kabul
A view of the damage at Zemerai Ahmadi's family house after a drone strike one day before the final U.S. evacuation flights from Kabul, Afghanistan. Ahmadi and nine members of his family, including seven children, were reported killed in the airstrike on August 29, 2021. Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff in a statement said he is unconvinced the summary of the investigation "provides for real accountability." 

"From what the Intelligence Committee has learned of this strike and the events leading up to it, as well as statements made in its immediate wake, I have serious concerns that are unaddressed by what has been put forward publicly," Schiff said,apparently alluding to additional information on which the committee has been briefed. 

The report itself remains classified, but in a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Said outlined the recommendations his review has made so that this kind of error in targeting doesn't occur again. 

The review found execution errors, combined with confirmation bias and communication breakdowns led to the death of civilians, rather than a suspected ISIS-K terrorist. 

The Pentagon in September admitted it had made a mistake following an investigation conducted by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the command in charge of overall operations in Afghanistan. 

CENTCOM Commander General Frank McKenzie called the strike "a tragic mistake." 

The August 29 airstrike was intended to take out an ISIS-K terrorist threatening to attack the Kabul airport, but the individual who was targeted turned out to be an international aid worker. 

Said, in the briefing with reporters Wednesday, said officials were acting on intelligence that a Toyota Corolla intended to conduct an attack. During the eight hours officials tracked the car, confirmation bias led them to perceive the driver's activity as nefarious. The report recommends ensuring a "red team" whose job is to play devil's advocate on interpretations of intelligence.  

According to Said, it wasn't "unreasonable" to conclude the vehicle was a threat given the information available and the threat environment at the time. The strike occurred three days after an ISIS-K suicide bomber had killed 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghan civilians and one day before the U.S. military's official final withdrawal from Afghanistan.  

At the time, military officials saw Zemari Ahmadi, the U.S. aid worker identified by friends and colleagues as being killed in the strike, loading water cans into his Toyota Corolla, and mistakenly concluded he was a terrorist handling explosives. 

The day after the strike the Pentagon said it had taken out an imminent ISIS-K threat and the significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated explosive material. 

Two days after the strike, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley said others may have been killed "but at this point, we think that the procedures were correctly followed and it was a righteous strike."

The report discussed on Wednesday shows those statements were incorrect. 

Said told reporters Wednesday the Defense Department never ended up tracking the Toyota corolla that intelligence indicated might have been involved in a nefarious plot. 

The Pentagon has been in contact with Ahmadi's employer, Steven Kwon, about making compensation payments to the family and relocating members of the family to the U.S. 

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