A U.S. drone strike that killed innocent civilians in Afghanistan in the final days of the U.S. withdrawal from the country was a tragic mistake but did not violate any laws, a Pentagon inspector-general said on November 3 after an investigation.
The drone strike on August 29 killed Zemerai Ahmadi, a longtime employee of an American humanitarian organization, and nine family members, including seven children.
The investigation by the Air Force inspector-general said the strike was caused by execution errors, communication breakdowns, and "confirmation bias" -- a tendency to make decisions on what one expects to see.
Lieutenant General Sami Said told reporters at the Pentagon on November 3 that the people directly involved in the strike, which took place during the U.S.-led evacuation of tens of thousands of people after the Taliban seized control of the country, genuinely believed "that they were targeting an imminent strike."
But the interpretation of intelligence and the observations of the targeted car and its occupants over eight hours were "regrettably inaccurate," it said.
"It's a regrettable mistake. It was an honest mistake," Said said.
Steven Kwon, co-founder and president of Nutrition and Education International, the humanitarian organization that employed Ahmadi, said the investigation was "deeply disappointing and inadequate."
"According to the inspector-general, there was a mistake, but no one acted wrongly, and I’m left wondering, how can that be?" Kwon said in a statement quoted by Reuters.
After a preliminary investigation, the Pentagon admitted on September 17 that the incident had been a "tragic mistake" and pledged to provide compensation to the surviving family members and potentially get them out of Afghanistan.
Said’s review said the drone strike must be considered in the context of the moment. It took place as U.S. forces were being flooded by information about threats to troops and civilians at the Kabul airport and just days after a deadly suicide bombing left 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghans dead.
The U.S. military at the time had intelligence that Islamic State militants were planning a fresh attack on the evacuation operations.
Said did not recommend disciplinary action but said it would be up to commanders to make a decision on whether someone should be punished.
The investigation found that better communication between those making the strike decision and other support personnel might have raised more doubts about the bombing, but in the end may not have prevented it.
The report made several recommendations that have been passed on to U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command.