Staff and agencies
Pentagon declassifies footage from Kabul strike it defended but later admitted was an ‘honest mistake’
The Pentagon has declassified and publicly released video footage of a US drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 civilians in the final hours of the chaotic American withdrawal that ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan.
The New York Times obtained the footage through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against US Central Command, which then posted the imagery to its website. It marks the first public release of video footage of the 29 August strike, which the Pentagon initially defended but later called a tragic mistake.
The videos include about 25 minutes of footage from what the Times reported were two MQ-9 Reaper drones, showing the scene of the strike prior to, during and after a missile struck a civilian car in a courtyard on a residential street. Indistinct images show individuals moving in or near the attack zone.
A Pentagon investigation last year found the strike in Kabul was an “honest mistake” and recommended no legal or disciplinary action, a conclusion that was met with widespread outrage from Congress and human rights groups.
Critics said the report contributed to a culture of impunity and failed to address systemic problems in the US conduct of drone warfare, making future civilian casualties inevitable.
The victims of the 29 August strike included Zemari Ahmadi, who worked for a US-based aid organisation, and nine members of his family, including seven children. Even though the investigation by the US air force inspector general, Lt Gen Sami Said, found that the drone operators had confused a white Toyota Corolla at the scene with a car linked to a terrorist group and also failed to spot a child visible in surveillance footage two minutes before the strike, it found no evidence of wrongdoing.
“The investigation found no violation of law, including the law of war. Execution errors combined with confirmation bias and communication breakdowns led to regrettable civilian casualties,” the report said.
“It was an honest mistake,” Said told reporters at the Pentagon. “But it’s not criminal conduct, random conduct, negligence.”
Three days earlier a suicide bombing at the airport had killed 13 US troops and more than 160 Afghans. When it later acknowledged its error in the 29 August drone strike, Central Command said it determined that the man driving the car had nothing to do with the IS group.
Additional reporting from Julian Borger