U.S. General Kenneth McKenzie says a deadly drone attack by the U.S. military outside Kabul airport on August 29 during the last days of the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan "was a mistake" and apologized for the loss of innocent lives.
McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said the attack killed as many as 10 civilians, including seven children, not extremists, as the military said in its initial assessment.
"It was a mistake and I offer my sincere apology," McKenzie said at a briefing on September 17.
He added that he now believes that it unlikely that the vehicle hit by the drone strike or those who died were Islamic State militants or posed a direct threat to U.S. forces at Kabul's airport.
Prior to the attack, McKenzie said the military believed it had accurate information that the car that was hit posed a threat. A suicide attack on August 26 by Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate, killed more than 170 Afghan civilians and 13 American troops.
McKenzie said the vehicle was struck “in the earnest belief” that it posed an imminent threat.
“I do feel responsible for this and I appreciate the questions from the media,” McKenzie told reporters after taking several questions at the briefing.
The Washington Post and The New York Times in recent days quoted explosives experts who raised doubt about the military's claims that the strike hit a car that was laden with explosives.
The reports said the driver of the vehicle was a longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization.
In addition, members of the family were quoted by AP as saying the family was trying to gain visas to the United States because they feared for their lives under the Taliban. Until now, the military had not responded to those reports.
McKenzie said the Pentagon is considering reparations for the relatives of the people killed and is in consultations on how to proceed with that.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was briefed on September 17 about the findings of the military’s investigation and issued a statement expressing deep condolences to the family members of those who were killed.
The statements represent a major reversal of the military’s earlier position about the drone strike.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters two days after the attack that it appeared to have been a “righteous” strike and that at least one of the people killed was a “facilitator” for IS-K.
Milley joined McKenzie in expressing regret.
“This is a horrible tragedy of war and it’s heart wrenching," Milley told reporters traveling with him in Europe. “We are committed to being fully transparent about this incident.”