US probe says its strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians did not violate law of war

US probe says its strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians did not violate law of war
4 min read
03 November, 2021
A United States probe into its own strike in Afghanistan has suggested it was not a violation of the laws of war, despite killing 10 Afghan civilians.
Ten Afghan civilians were killed in the air strike [Getty]

A US drone strike in Kabul in August that killed 10 Afghan civilians was a tragic mistake but did not violate any laws, a Pentagon inspector general said on Wednesday after an investigation.

Three adults, including a man who worked for a US aid group, and seven children were killed in the August 29 operation, with the target believed to have been a home and a vehicle occupied by Islamic State militants.

"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," Lieutenant General Sami Said, the inspector general for the US Air Force, said in a report.

"It was an honest mistake," Said told reporters at the Pentagon.

"But it's not criminal conduct, random conduct, negligence," he said.

Said said the people directly involved in the strike, which took place during the US-led evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans after the Taliban seized control of the country, genuinely believed "that they were targeting an imminent strike."

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"The intended target of the strike, the vehicle, its contents and occupant, were genuinely assessed at the time as an imminent threat to US forces and mission at Hamid Karzai International Airport," the report said.

However, it said, the interpretation of intelligence and the observations of a targeted car and its occupants over eight hours was "regrettably inaccurate," it said.

"What likely broke down was not the intelligence but the correlation of that intelligence to a specific house," Said explained.

The US military believed it was targeting IS militants planning an attack on the evacuation operations, three days after a suicide bomb attack at the airport left 13 US service members and scores of Afghans dead.

The car was thought to have contained explosives like those used in the previous attack.

After a preliminary investigation, the Pentagon admitted on September 17 that it had been a "tragic mistake."

The Pentagon said that the surviving family members would be compensated.

Said said that there was not one point of failure or a person to be blamed for the error. He also said it was not in his responsibilities to decide whether someone should be punished for the error.

'Suppressing information'

The results come just days after a  US government watchdog accused the State Department and Pentagon of suppressing information that lawmakers and the public need to understand the collapse of Afghanistan's former government and military and the chaotic US troop pullout.

"The full picture of what happened in August - and all the warning signs that could have predicted the outcome - will only be revealed if the information that the departments of Defence and State have already restricted from public release is made available," said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR).

The Pentagon and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Addressing reporters, Sopko said that after the Taliban seized Kabul, the State Department asked him to temporarily suspend online access to certain reports he issued to ensure the safety of US-affiliated Afghans.

The department "was never able to describe any specific threats to individuals that were supposedly contained in our reports," said Sopko, who added he "reluctantly" barred access to the documents.

The State Department, he continued, recently sought redactions of some 2,400 items remaining on SIGAR's website.

Some requests were "bizarre," such as excising former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's name from reports, Sopko said.

After a review, his agency found only four items meriting redaction, and left the remainder accessible.

Noting that Congress tasked him with investigating the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government and military, he said the Pentagon has since 2015 barred from public release a range of data purportedly at the former Ghani government's request.

Most of that information, including casualty data and unit strengths, was "all you needed to know to determine whether the Afghan security forces were a real fighting force or a house of cards," he said.