No military personnel will be punished for Afghanistan air strike that killed 10 civilians

Senior Airman Blake Anguiano (left) and Airman 1st Class Jonathan Lamb, 4th Component Maintenance Squadron aircrew egress systems journeymen, install an ejection seat into an F-15E Strike Eagle at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, Sept. 22, 2020.

No military personnel will be punished for mistakes made in a drone strike that killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan in August, defense officials confirmed on Monday.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that senior leaders have reviewed the incident and offered their final recommendations, which were “more about procedure and process” than any punishments. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin accepted the findings in recent weeks.

“None of their recommendations dealt specifically with issues of accountability,” Kirby said. “So I do not anticipate there being issues of personal accountability to be had with respect to the Aug. 29 air strike.”

The news on the lack of punishments was first reported by the New York Times.

The air strike, one of the last military actions in Afghanistan by the United States before the full withdrawal of American troops from the country in late August, drew international headlines after it was revealed that civilians and not enemy combatants were killed in the attack.

Seven children and three other civilians died in the attack. Military officials initially said the strike was against Islamic State militants who were targeting American troops, but acknowledged the mistakes weeks later.

Kirby repeated past statements that the Defense Department “works very hard to prevent civilian harm” in military operations and promised full transparency in ongoing reviews of drone strike policy.

According to the Associated Press, a review done by Air Force Lt. Gen. Sami Said following the August strike found breakdowns in communication and in the process of identifying and confirming the target of the bombing. But he concluded that the strike was a tragic mistake, not an intentional or reckless act.

Two other senior leaders reviewing the August case — Gen. Kenneth McKenzie , head U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Richard Clarke, head of U.S. Special Operations Command — agreed with those findings and recommended procedural changes in response to the errant strike, Kirby said

“What we saw here was a breakdown in process, execution and procedural events,” he said. “It was not the result of negligence, misconduct or poor leadership.

“We know there will be some who don’t like this particular decision. But it wasn’t an outcome that we came to without careful thought and consideration. That’s why the secretary wanted an independent review of the airstrike in the first place.”

The strike came just days after 13 U.S. service members were killed in a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport as officials struggled to evacuate thousands of refugees ahead of the military withdrawal. Islamic State fighters claimed responsibility for that attack.

“[U.S. forces] faced quite tangible threats from ISIS in Afghanistan then,” Kirby said. “All of that factored into the decision that, yes, there were procedural changes that need to occur and will occur, process improvements that absolutely will incur.

“But in this particular case, there was not a strong enough case to be made for personal accountability.”

Kirby also acknowledged on Monday that Defense officials are still working to deliver financial reparations to the relatives and surviving family members of the strike victims, but that work is still not finished.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.