Military Admits No ISIS Fighters Killed in Kabul Drone Strike That Claimed Ten Civilian Lives

A U.S. Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile stands on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport, June 2010. (Masood Hossaini/Pool via Reuters)

No ISIS-K fighters were killed in the U.S. drone strike in Kabul on August 29, the head of U.S. Central Command announced on Friday.

The strike instead killed an innocent aid worker and nine family members, CENTCOM has determined. Family members of the victims have spoken with media outlets including CNN, while a New York Times investigation found no evidence that the U.S. strike killed ISIS members.

President Biden did not immediately comment on the findings, and according to the White House schedule, the president was set to travel earlier this afternoon to Rehoboth Beach, Del., where his family has a second home.

“As many as 10 civilians, including up to 7 children, were tragically killed in that strike. Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K,” CENTCOM head General Kenneth McKenzie said via video appearance at a Pentagon press conference.

At the time of the strike, CENTCOM spokesman Bill Urban contended that “significant secondary explosions from the vehicle” indicated that the targeted car was equipped with a bomb. However, McKenzie said on Friday that the secondary explosion was likely a propane tank behind the car.

CENTCOM initially said the strike neutralized a potential ISIS-K car bomb en route to the Kabul airport, where an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed 13 American service members and almost 200 Afghans days earlier.

“The procedures were correctly followed and it was a righteous strike,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley said initially following the strike. On Friday, Milley acknowledged the mistake.

“In a dynamic high threat environment, the commanders on the ground had appropriate authority and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid but after deeper post strike analysis our conclusion is that innocent civilians were killed,” Milley said in a statement. “This is a horrible tragedy of war and its heart wrenching and we are committed to being fully transparent about this incident.”

In response to the killing of U.S. forces in Kabul, the Pentagon said on August 28 that it also killed two “high-profile” ISIS targets. Deputy Director of Regional Operations Major General Hank Taylor said at the time that “we know of zero civilian casualties.”

Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the Kabul strike during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

“You don’t know if it was an aid worker or an ISIS-K operative?” Paul asked at the time. “You don’t know or you won’t tell us?”

“I don’t know because we’re reviewing it,” Blinken responded.

“See, you’d think you’d kind of know before you off somebody with a predator drone whether he’s an aid worker or an ISIS-K” operative, Paul said.

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.


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