The U.S. military admitted on Friday that a U.S. drone strike in late August in Kabul of Afghanistan killed as many as 10 civilians, including 7 children.
"Having thoroughly reviewed the findings of the investigation and the supporting analysis by interagency partners, I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike," Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters during a Pentagon press briefing.
"We now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K, or were a direct threat to U.S. forces," he added.
The general admitted the deadly strike was "a tragic mistake." "As the combatant commander, I am fully responsible for this strike and this tragic outcome."
The U.S. Central Command said on Aug. 29 that it launched a drone strike on a vehicle in Kabul, which it claimed had eliminated an "imminent" threat, posed by ISIS-K, an Afghanistan-based offshoot of the Islamic State, to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, where evacuations of U.S. service members and personnel were underway.
Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, had called it a "righteous strike" with procedures correctly followed.
Media reports later emerged that the U.S. military might have hit a wrong target in the strike with civilian casualties.
Separate investigations by The New York Times and The Washington Post identified the vehicle driver as Zemarai Ahmadi, a 43-year-old electrical engineer working for Nutrition and Education International, a U.S. aid group based in Pasadena, California.
"We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan," Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement on Friday. "His activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced, and that Mr. Ahmadi was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed."
"We apologize, and we will endeavor to learn from this horrible mistake," he added.
The Pentagon chief also noted he had asked a further review of the investigation just completed by U.S. Central Command to determine whether "accountability measures" need to be taken and strike authorities and procedures to be changed in the future.
The Central Command announced on Aug. 30 that it had completed the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, ending 20 years of U.S. military presence in the country, after botched evacuations that drew fierce criticism from both home and abroad.
The United States announced its "War on Terror" and invaded Afghanistan in 2001, soon after al-Qaida terrorists hijacked passenger planes and carried out suicide attacks against the United States, killing almost 3,000 people on its soil.
Over the years, Washington has expanded warfare into several other countries, relying heavily on drone strikes for targeted killings. U.S. drone attacks and airstrikes have killed at least 22,000 civilians over the past two decades, according to watchdog Airwars.