No punishment for those involved in botched fatal Kabul drone strike: Pentagon

No military personnel involved in a botched drone strike that killed 10 civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this year will face punishment, the Pentagon said Monday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved recommendations from U.S. Central Command head Gen. Kenneth McKenzie and U.S. Special Operations Command leader Gen. Richard Clarke to not take any administrative action against those involved in the Aug. 29 strike, press secretary John Kirby told reporters.  

Kirby said that when McKenzie and Clarke listed their recommendations to Austin “there was no recommendation by either of them about accountability.”

“The recommendations were more about procedure and process and the secretary reviewed them and has accepted them,” Kirby told reporters. “And again, most of them are of a classified nature. … but there was no overt recommendation made by either specific to accountability and any punishment for anyone.”

The New York Times was the first to report on the recommendations earlier Monday.

The Defense Department admitted in September that the drone strike — which came in the final days of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan — was a “tragic mistake” that killed the civilians, including seven children. Prior to that, Pentagon officials had said the strike was necessary to prevent “an imminent ISIS-K threat” to U.S. forces evacuating people at Kabul’s airport.

The Pentagon, which initially defended the targeting as a “righteous strike,” carried out the bombing after commanders errantly thought the driver of a white Toyota Corolla — 37-year-old Zemerai Ahmadi, a longtime aid worker for a U.S.-based group — was an ISIS-K operative with explosives.

After a high-level Pentagon review into the incident, no violation of the laws of war were found but it was discovered there were “execution errors” in the lead-up to the strike. 

The investigation, revealed last month, concluded that the errors were not caused by misconduct or negligence and doesn’t recommend disciplinary action, but gave commanders the power to decide on what accountability, if any, there would be.

But both McKenzie and Clarke found no grounds for punishing any of the military personnel involved, a Pentagon official told the Times.

In a statement to The Hill, Kirby said the department takes seriously “our obligation to avoid civilian harm in the execution of our operations, and as the secretary made clear, we will not be afraid to make necessary changes to our processes and procedures to that end.” 

The U.S. military has killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilians by accident in war zones in places including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia in the past 20 years but has rarely held specific individuals accountable. 

Public outcry has grown over such killings, including a recently revealed U.S. airstrike in Syria in 2019 that killed dozens of women and children, which military officials tried to conceal. 

Austin has since ordered an investigation into that airstrike.

Tags John Kirby Lloyd Austin

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