Deadly US drone strike in Kabul did not break law, Pentagon says

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Media caption,

Relative of drone strike victims: "Why did they kill our family... our children?"

A US drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians was an error that did not violate any laws, a Pentagon inspector said following an investigation.

"It was an honest mistake," US Air Force Inspector Lieutenant General Sami Said told reporters.

The strike on 29 August killed three adults, including a man who worked for a US aid group, and seven children.

It took place as Western nations attempted to evacuate Afghans after the Taliban took control of the country.

The youngest child to be killed was two-year-old Sumaya, and the eldest 12-year-old Farzad, the family told the BBC.

Speaking shortly afterwards Ramin Yousufi, a relative, said it had been a "brutal attack" based on "wrong information".

"Why have they killed our family? Our children? They are so burned out we cannot identify their bodies, their faces," he said.

Lt Gen Said said there had been "execution errors, combined with confirmation bias and communications breakdowns" that led to "regrettable civilian casualties".

But he said an investigation had found "no violation of law, including the Law of War".

"It's not criminal conduct, random conduct, negligence," he added.

He said the US personnel who carried out the drone strike genuinely believed they were targeting "an imminent threat" from the Islamic State (IS) group to US forces and diplomatic staff at Kabul airport.

It came days after IS-K, the group's Afghanistan branch, said they were behind a devastating bomb attack outside Kabul airport, where thousands of Afghans had gathered to try to flee the country, killing at least 170 people including 13 US service personnel.

The US military said it had intelligence that IS was planning a second attack on evacuation operations.

"What likely broke down was not the intelligence but the correlation of that intelligence to a specific house," Lt Gen Said said.

The intelligence had involved a white Toyota Corolla car thought to contain explosives. But Lt Gen Said said that the US had then tracked the wrong car.

"We just didn't pick up the Toyota Corolla that we believe we should have picked up."

Those involved in the drone strike believed the house to be empty and failed to notice a child entering the target area two minutes before the rocket was fired.

The US military also believed that the earlier airport bomber had carried explosives in a computer bag, so when operatives planning the attack saw the people they were watching hold a computer bag they believed they had the right target, an example of "confirmation bias".

"As it turns out, and we can affirm it, it was a computer bag" and not explosives, said Lt Gen Said.

After a preliminary investigation, the Pentagon admitted in September that the strike had been a "tragic mistake" and said it would compensate those family members who had survived.

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