Following recent investigative reports by the New York Times and Washington Post, US authorities admitted on Friday that one of its last drone strikes in Afghanistan, days before its complete military pullout, killed 10 civilians.
Calling it a ‘tragic mistake’, the US Central Command announced that investigations revealed that its drone strike on 29 August 2021 had killed aid worker Zamairi Akmadhi, seven children and two other civilians. According to the BBC, all of those killed were members of the same family. The youngest child killed was just two-years-old.
The Pentagon had in earlier weeks said that the drone strike on 29 August had targeted an ISIS-K suicide bomber who was believed to be involved in planning attacks against US military forces at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The 29 August drone strike came three days after an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed 13 US troops and dozens of Afghan civilians who had gathered at the airport in an attempt to flee the country that had days earlier fallen to the Taliban. ISIS-K, an offshoot of ISIS founded in 2015 by former members of Pakistani Taliban, had claimed responsibility for the bombing, which was the deadliest incident for US troops in Afghanistan since 2011.
In its rare statement admitting fault, the US acknowledged that Akmadhi was an aid worker for an organisation called Nutrition and Education International and that he had no links to ISIS-K.
“We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Akmadhi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced,” said US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The drone strike occurred after US intelligence had tracked Akmadhi for up to eight hours with the belief that he had links to ISIS-K. A surveillance drone sighted men loading canisters believed to be explosives into the boot of his white Toyota sedan. Investigations later revealed that the canisters simply contained water, which Akmadhi was picking up due to a shortage of water in Kabul to bring home to his family.
As Akmadhi arrived home, a decision was made to strike his vehicle. That strike marked one of the US’ final military operations in Afghanistan before it pulled out its forces on 31 August 2021.