The Pentagon for the first time publicly released drone footage of a botched strike in Kabul that killed 10 members of a family, including seven children, amid the chaotic US withdrawal from the country.
The footage was initially obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The New York Times and was subsequently released by US Central Command on Thursday. It appears to underscore how, by the Pentagon’s own account, limited intelligence, a heightened state of alert, and rushed decision-making led to the killing of civilians.
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The fuzzy footage, which officials told the newspaper was recorded by two MQ-9 Reaper drones, shows the moments before the fatal drone strike on a car in a courtyard in Kabul on August 29.
One segment of footage appears to show a shorter, blurry figure in white next to a taller figure in black in the courtyard as the targeted car backs in to park, according to the analysis by the Times.
While footage also shows figures moving around the courtyard in the minutes before the strike – and one person open the passenger door to the targeted car – the Times notes the heights of the figures cannot be determined from the murky footage.
A flash of fire indicates the moment of the strike and people can be seen running in the aftermath.
The US military initially stood by the attack, which they said targeted an operative of Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) who planned an imminent attack on Kabul international airport, where desperate Afghans continued to gather in the final days of a mad-dash evacuation by US and other foreign troops after the Taliban took the city weeks earlier.
The strike came three days after an ISIS-K suicide bombing at the airport had killed more than 160 Afghans and 13 US troops.
In November, the Pentagon acknowledged it had made a tragic error, saying it had determined the man driving the car, Zemari Ahmadi, had nothing to do with ISIS-K and instead worked for Nutrition and Education International, a US-based aid organisation. The strike killed nine of Ahmadi’s family.
The department later announced no one would be held personally accountable for the strike.
Military officials also acknowledged in November that surveillance video showed at least one child present in the area just two minutes before the strike.
The Air Force’s inspector general, Lieutenant-General Sami Said, said while “physical evidence” of a child “was apparent” in two independent reviews of the surveillance, “it is 100 percent not obvious. You have to be looking for it.”
He cited “confirmation bias” that led to a series of assumptions and the deadly strike, which he characterised as an “honest mistake” and not “negligence”.
“That assessment was primarily driven by interpretation,” he said. “Regrettably, the interpretational assessment was inaccurate.”