A U.S. military investigation concluded that a recent airstrike targeting an alleged ISIS-K terrorist who was supposedly on the verge of striking Hamid Karzai International Airport actually killed an aid worker and many of his family members.
Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command, announced the results of the investigation during Friday afternoon's Pentagon briefing.
McKenzie said he was "now convinced" the target was an aid worker. "It was a mistake," he said, adding he is "fully responsible for the strike and its tragic outcome."
In addition to confirming 10 civilian deaths, including seven children, he added, "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."
"I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed. This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces," McKenzie said.
One recurring piece of intelligence gathered by U.S. officials was that a white Toyota Corolla would be “a key element in the next attack,” as it is the same vehicle driven by Ahmadi, McKenzie said.
U.S. officials began tracking his vehicle on the day of the strike when he appeared at a location believed to be a “key area of interest associated with imminent threats to the airport.”
Intelligence officials then tracked the vehicle for eight hours before conducting the strike. During that time, they saw various men get in the car to be dropped off at other locations, transporting jugs and bags.
The strike took place on Aug. 29, days after an ISIS-K suicide bomber detonated a device killing 13 U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans. The explosion occurred right outside the airport, where U.S. and coalition forces were working on a mass evacuation for third-country nationals and Afghan allies who would be at-risk under the newly formed Taliban regime.
McKenzie also noted the strike was conducted shortly after the ISIS-K bombing, and intelligence warned of a possible second strike, which many officials said were "highly likely" at the time.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was briefed on the results of the investigation on Friday morning, acknowledged in a statement that “there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan.”
He directed a “thorough review of the investigation,” which he said will “consider the degree to which the investigation considered all available context and information, the degree to which accountability measures need to be taken and at what level, and the degree to which strike authorities, procedures, and processes need to be altered in the future.”
CENTCOM and the Pentagon previously acknowledged the reports of 10 civilian casualties, including children, emanating from the strike. However, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, maintained it was a "righteous strike" until Friday.
At the time, U.S. CENTCOM spokesman Bill Urban said the strike resulted in “significant secondary explosions from the vehicle,” which indicates the “presence of a substantial amount of explosive material." However, he added that “we are still assessing the results of this strike, which we know disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat to the airport."
The investigation revealed a “possible to probable presence of external accelerants," McKenzie added.
The company Ahmadi worked for — Nutrition and Education International, a charity based in Pasadena, California — said they are “saddened” by his death, adding he was “well respected by his colleagues and compassionate toward the poor and needy.”
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Original Author: Mike Brest