Air Force Inspector General Will Review Kabul Drone Strike That Killed 10 Civilians

September 21, 2021Dustin Jones
Kabul drone strike review

The Pentagon will review the errant drone strike that killed 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi and nine members of his family on Aug. 29. Photos from DOD, Nutrition and Education International. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

The Air Force inspector general will review the drone strike that killed 10 civilians — including seven children — in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 29. The review — which will comb through US Central Command’s already completed investigation of the strike — is expected to be done within 45 days, after which the IG is expected to make recommendations on drone operations as well as who, if anyone, should be held accountable for the erroneous attack. 

The drone strike came days after 13 Americans and 169 Afghans died in a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport. In the days after the strike, American officials insisted that the target had been another ISIS-K suicide bomber. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the action “a righteous strike” in the days after.

But Milley changed his tune Friday, Sept. 17, calling the strike a “horrible tragedy.” His view echoes a Friday briefing in which Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of US Central Command, admitted that on-the-ground intelligence about an imminent attack in Kabul was flawed and offered his condolences to the family and friends of those killed in the Aug. 29 strike.

Tuesday, the Pentagon said that, at the request of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, Air Force Inspector General  Lt. Gen. Sami Said will review the strike and CENTCOM’s investigation of it. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Said’s job will be to report recommendations and lessons to be learned.

Lt. Gen. Sami Said has been charged with reviewing US Central Command’s investigation of a drone attack outside the Kabul airport that killed 10 civilians. His review is expected to be completed in the next 45 days. Photo by Department of Defense.

“Part of that review will be to examine the investigation itself, the thoroughness of the investigation, to study the degree to which any policies, procedures or targeting mechanisms may need to be altered going forward, if any, and of course to then take a look at what levels of accountability might be appropriate,” Kirby said Monday.

The strike came in the early evening hours of Aug. 29, when a single Hellfire missile struck a white Toyota Corolla, McKenzie said Friday. Observers had monitored the vehicle eight hours before the explosion, fearing the occupant to be an ISIS-K conspirator. Analysts had seen the driver load heavy juglike objects into the car and feared they may have been bomb-making materials or even an explosive device.

Instead, it now appears they were water jugs and the man was 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi, an engineer working for a US-based aid group, Nutrition and Education International. Through his work with the food aid organization, Ahmadi had applied to come to the US.

The decision to engage the target was made, McKenzie said, by the “Over the Horizon Strike Cell commander,” who was located on the ground in Kabul.

A CENTCOM spokesperson would not discuss the firing authority procedures in place for the strike, nor identify whether the drone used belonged to the Air Force, CIA, or other organization.

The strike is believed to have killed Ahmadi and nine members of his family, including seven children. And though Nutrition and Education International thanked the Pentagon for the apology, it said additional steps should be taken. The group hopes the United States will provide expedited special immigrant visas for Ahmadi’s remaining relatives as well as resettlement support.

Kirby told reporters Monday he could not confirm anything about relocating the family, but CENTCOM is working to reach the family to discuss payments and any interests in leaving the country. 

Said has served in the Air Force’s inspector general’s office for almost five years, serving as deputy before assuming the inspector general position in early 2019. Earlier this month, the Air Force released an update on Said’s independent review of racial, gender, and ethnic disparities among its members. Through surveys, interviews, and group discussions, the department confirmed the existence of disparities concerning military justice and investigations, career placement, promotions, and leadership positions. 

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Dustin Jones
Dustin Jones

Dustin Jones is a former senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine covering military and intelligence news. Jones served four years in the Marine Corps with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He studied journalism at the University of Colorado and Columbia University. He has worked as a reporter in Southwest Montana and at NPR. A New Hampshire native, Dustin currently resides in Southern California.

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