At least one person killed in a U.S. drone strike in Kabul on Sunday was an ISIS facilitator, though there were unidentified “others” slain as well, the U.S. military’s top general said Wednesday amid reports of up to 10 civilians killed in the strike.
In a news conference marking this week’s end to 20 years of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China Pentagon official warns ISIS-K could be able to attack US in six months Milley: Chinese hypersonic weapons test very close to a 'Sputnik moment' MORE reiterated that an investigation into Sunday's strike is ongoing, but defended the strike as “still valid” and “righteous.”
“We had very good intelligence that ISIS-K was preparing a specific-type vehicle at a specific-type location,” Milley said, referring to the Afghan branch of ISIS. "We monitored that through various means, and all of the engagement criteria were being met. We went through the same level of rigor that we've done for years.”
“We know from the variety of other means that at least one of those people that were killed was a ISIS facilitator,” added Milley, standing alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinRepublican spin on Biden is off the mark Biden remarks on Taiwan leave administration scrambling Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan MORE. “Were there others killed? Yes, there are others killed. Who they are, we don't know. We'll try to sort through all that. But we believe that the procedures at this point — I don't want to influence the outcome of an investigation — but at this point we think that the procedures were correctly followed and it was a righteous strike.”
At issue is a drone strike against a vehicle conducted by the U.S. military Sunday that officials said “disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat” to the Kabul airport.
Officials have pointed to “secondary explosions” as evidence the vehicle was carrying explosives.
Milley reiterated Wednesday that “because there were secondary explosions, there's a reasonable conclusion to be made that there was explosives in that vehicle.”
But shortly after the strike, reports started emerging that at least 10 civilians from a single extended family who had been nearby were killed, including seven children.
U.S. Central Command acknowledged reports of the deaths, saying that a “large amount of explosive material inside may have caused additional casualties.”
The strike came amid warnings of additional threats from ISIS after the terrorist group conducted a suicide bombing last week outside the Kabul airport during the U.S. evacuation operation, killing scores of Afghans and 13 U.S. troops.
In addition to Sunday’s strike, the U.S. military conducted a drone strike in eastern Afghanistan on Friday that officials said killed two “high profile” ISIS targets and injured a third, though officials have not identified the targets.
U.S. officials have pointed to the two strikes as evidence they will be able to keep terrorist threats in check in Afghanistan even without a U.S. military footprint on the ground.
But critics have argued the reports of civilian casualties highlight the limitations and risks of a drone war.