U.S. Troops Won't Be Disciplined Over Drone Strike That Killed 7 Afghan Kids, 3 Adults

Military officials announced Monday that no U.S. troops involved in a drone strike that killed 10 civilians, including seven children in Kabul, Afghanistan, will be disciplined over the mistaken August attack.

The decision is based on an independent review that was released last month conducted by Air Force Lieutenant General Sami Said, inspector general for the Air Force, considered independent because he had no connection to the decision.

Said's report said that while there were errors in communication and the process of identifying the car that was the target of the bombing, the cause could not be directly attributed to misconduct or negligence, and was more likely to be a tragic mistake than anything else.

The report was endorsed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who also approved the recommendation of no discipline made by the general in charge of the U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command.

On August 29, a drone strike was called on a white Toyota Corolla, killing Zemerai Ahmadi and nine family members.

The attack came days after an Islamic State suicide bombing at an airport gate in Kabul that killed 13 U.S. soldiers and 169 Afghan citizens, and Said concluded that the soldiers that ordered the attack believed the car they were observing would be a threat if it was allowed to reach the airport.

Said also made several recommendations for how communication could be improved and future deadly mistakes could be avoided, as he said better communication could have allowed for more questions to be asked about if they were certain the car was a valid target, although it may still have not stopped the strike.

Lloyd Austin, US Troops, Afghanistan Drone Strike
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also approved the recommendation of no discipline made by the general in charge of the U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command. Above, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stands with Lithuania's Minister of Defense Arvydas Anusauskas during an honor cordon upon his arrival at the Pentagon in Washington Monday. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Austin asked General Frank McKenzie, head of Central Command, and General Richard Clark, head of Special Operations Command, to review Said's conclusions and come back to him with recommendations. The two commanders agreed with Said's findings, and did not recommend any discipline, officials said, adding that Austin endorsed their decisions. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss decisions not yet made public. Austin's latest endorsement was first reported by The New York Times.

Ahmadi, 37, was a longtime employee of an American humanitarian organization.

The U.S. was working to evacuate thousands of Americans, Afghans and other allies in the wake of the collapse of the country's government.

He made a number of recommendations, including that more be done to prevent what military officials call "confirmation bias"—the idea that troops making the strike decision were too quick to conclude that what they were seeing aligned with the intelligence and confirmed their conclusion to bomb what turned out to be the wrong car.

And he said the military should have personnel present with a strike team, and their job should be to actively question such conclusions. And he recommended that the military improve its procedures to ensure that children and other innocent civilians are not present before launching a time-sensitive strike.

Officials said that McKenzie and Clarke largely agreed with Said's recommendations.

The U.S. is working to pay financial reparations to the relatives and surviving family members, and potentially get them out of Afghanistan, but nothing has been finalized

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Afghanistan Drone Strike, US Military
A relative of Zemerai Ahmadi inspects the debris of a vehicle that was damaged in a US drone strike in the Kwaja Burga neighborhood of Kabul on September 18, 2021. Ahmadi and nine other civilians, including seven children, were killed in the drone strike that officials announced Monday no US soldiers will face discipline for, calling the strike a mistake that happened because of errors in communication. Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images