Military Investigation Reveals How the US Botched a Drone Strike in Kabul.
Documents obtained as part of an action reveal the biases that caused the fatal August 2021 mistake and also how officials made incorrect statements to conceal their estimation of civilian deaths.
In the final chaotic moments of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 U.S. military analysts observed the White Toyota Corolla stop at what they believed to be the Islamic State compound.
They Americans were already in a state of fear. Three days before the suicide bomber killed hundreds of Afghans and 13 U.S. troops at a main gate at the Kabul airport. Officials now had information that there could be another attack in the area and that it might be involving the white Corolla.
The car was tracked through Kabul over the next few hours. As it entered an enclosed courtyard close to the airport, authorities approved the use of drones. A few hours later, U.S. officials announced they had stopped an attack.
When reports of deaths among civilians emerged later in the day, the authorities released statements saying that there were “no indications” but would look into the claims and researching whether a second explosion could have killed civilians.
But a small portion of an U.S. Central Command investigation obtained by The Starbulletin showed that military analysts reported in the first minutes after the strike that civilians might have been killed. They also concluded that within three hours, they had concluded that three children were killed.
The documents also give specific examples of how biases and assumptions resulted in the fatal blunder.
Analysts from the military incorrectly believed, for instance, that a bag that was loaded into the vehicle was explosive due to it’s “careful handling and size,” and driving’s “erratic route” was evidence that he was attempting to avoid security.
The investigation was concluded about a week and a half after the strike . The investigation was not released. The Starbulletin has obtained 66 pages that were partially redacted by filing an Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Central Command.
Central Command declined to provide any additional information beyond the statements that it has previously made regarding the strike. The Pentagon earlier acknowledged that it had been an “tragic mistake” that killed 10 civilians. They also said to The Starbulletin that a new strategy to protect civilians was based on lessons from the accident.
One of the victims included Zemari Ahmadi, a veteran aid worker and driver of the vehicle.
Responding to a description given to the document that was released in The Starbulletin, Hina Shamsi is an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing victims’ families, said that the investigation “makes clear that military personnel saw what they wanted to see and not reality, which was an Afghan aid worker going about his daily life.”
In August. 29 2021 in 2021, an American MQ-9 Reaper drone shot an Hellfire missile at the black Toyota Corolla in a neighborhood close to Kabul airport. Kabul airport.
After just 20 minutes several personnel from the military and members of the team discovered that analysts had spotted potential civilian casualties in video feeds, based on their statements to the investigation.
After two to three hours of the attack, experts who had viewed the footage frame-by-frame discovered that three children were killed. The officer then shared that information with two of the top commanders in Afghanistan Major. General. Christopher Donahue, who is the commander of the ground force and the Rear Admiral. Peter G. Vasely.
In sworn testimony Six of the nine witnesses said they learned immediately following the attack that civilians were in the area and could be killed.
NEW: A U.S. Central Command investigation into the botched August 2021 drone strike in Kabul reveals how biases and assumptions led to the deadly blunder, and that military analysts saw possible civilian casualties within minutes of the strike:https://t.co/iGcmulbyw9 #FOIA
— Azmat Khan (@AzmatZahra) January 6, 2023
The next morning, Central Command said in an announcement that they had been “assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties” but that they had “no indications at this time.”
A few hours later, an update said that explosive explosions that followed could have resulted in civilian casualties. However, it did not mention the fact that analysts had already determined that three children were killed.
A few days after Three days later, General. Mark A. Milley, as the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed reporters that the protest had been “righteous” and had killed an ISIS facilitator, as in addition to “others,” but who they were “we do not know. We’ll look into the details.”
In the following months, Pentagon officials continued to declare that one of the ISIS victims was killed during the strike, even though evidence began to mount to prove the opposite.
In September. 10th the 10th of September, a starbulletin investigation was conducted based on video evidence as well as interview with more that a dozen individuals from Mr. Ahmadi’s colleagues and relatives in Kabul discovered no evidence of explosives were found inside the vehicle.
He. Ahmadi, who worked as an electrical engineer with an aid organization based in California. was busy taking his laptop to work, transporting colleagues to work and back, and taking water canisters into his trunk for transporting the water home with his wife and children.
Officials claimed that the targets had been to the ISIS “safe house,” however, The Starbulletin found that the house was actually residence for Mr. Ahmadi’s boss who was being retrieved by the suspect.
One week after an investigation by the Starbulletin investigation was released Military officials admitted that 10 civilians were killed and the deceased Mr. Ahmadi posed no threat and was not associated with ISIS.
Tracking a White Toyota
The subsequent review, led by Air Force inspector general, Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said, is still classified. The general did acknowledge the confirmatory bias — the tendency to seek out the information, or analyze it to support an established belief is a major element in the way Ms. Ahmadi became a target.
These documents obtained from The Starbulletin offer specific examples of confirmation bias that led to mistakes, for example, the military’s conclusion that the vehicle it was seeking was the vehicle the Mr. Ahmadi was driving.
In the document, U.S. intelligence reports in August. 29 suggested that the Islamic State affiliate known as ISIS-K was planning a strike on the Airport. It could include suicide bombers “rockets on timers” in the rear of a car and the blue Toyota Corolla.
Surveillance aircraft began following the white Corolla which the driver, Mr. Ahmadi was driving after it stopped at an “established ISIS-K compound.” Drones tracked the vehicle up to “a second building,” which was where they were able to observe Mr. Ahmadi as he “carefully loaded” the “package” into the trunk. Analysts deemed the package to be explosive “based on the careful handling and size of the material.”
In the following hours analysts observed as the car stopped to drop off “adult males,” some of them were wearing “bags or other box-shaped objects.” At one moment, an analyst explained the vehicle as “gingerly loaded with a box carried by five adult males.”
The investigation traces the car’s movements throughout the day, such as that it made its way into a mall’s parking garage and the fact that “bags” and “jugs” were taken out of the trunk. It also notes it stopped at the Taliban checkpoint.
Analysts say the vehicle followed the “erratic route” that was “consistent with ISIS-K directives to avoid close circuit cameras and pre-attack posture historically demonstrated by the group.”
At the point that the car was parked in an open-air garage located in an apartment surrounded with “high walls” about one mile from the airport military officials were prepared to authorize the attack.
A man that was seen shutting and opening the door to the vehicle was also believed as a possible element of the threat. “I personally believed this to be a likely staging location and the moving personnel to likely be a part of the overall attack plot,” an official told investigators. “That was my perception, and it was largely based on both someone immediately shutting the gate behind the vehicle and someone running in the courtyard.”
As of now, the latest information suggested that the attack on the airport was scheduled to be delayed until next day, as per one of the investigators’ interviewees however, military personnel were concerned they might lose their targets.
The idea was that they would block the blast’s range from reaching pedestrians in streets; strikers sent the Hellfire missile towards the vehicle. Following the blast witnesses claimed to have seen massive secondary explosions that confirmed the suspicions of the investigators that the vehicle had explosives.
The documents offer an incomplete understanding of the cause that caused the explosion. “Conflicting opinions from experts regarding the secondary explosion makes it inconclusive regarding the source of the flame seen after the strike,” according to the report’s conclusions, which recommended further research.
Video footage from the time of the blast obtained through The Starbulletin shows a fireball caused by the explosion, which is then expanded for a few seconds. In September. 17, following a second investigation, military officials stated that the blast was likely caused by a gas or propane tank.
The investigation focuses on another drone of surveillance not under military control , which was also following the vehicle, but doesn’t specify the details of what it saw.
The Starbulletin confirmed that the drone was controlled by C.I.A. and observed children, perhaps in the car, just moments prior to the impact. The military investigation has suggestions for better coordination however the documents do not say that C.I.A. The drone was able to observe children prior to the impact.
“When confirmation bias was so deadly in this case, you have to ask how many other people targeted by the military over the years were also unjustly killed,” Ms. Shamsi said.
The investigation found that a rocket strike at the airport took place the following day, approximately 200 meters from the “ISIS compound” where Mr. Ahmadi first stopped -an event that was the trigger for the initial investigation. Starbulletin reporters identified the vehicle that the rockets released as white Toyota.