Senior Air Force Officer to Weigh Accountability for Kabul Strike That Killed Civilians, Children

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Amal Ahmadi holds a picture of his slain brother Zemerai Ahmadi
Amal Ahmadi holds a picture of his slain brother Zemerai Ahmadi at the family house in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

A senior Air Force officer, three-star or above, will be appointed to review the Aug. 29 U.S. airstrike that mistakenly killed 10 innocent civilians in Afghanistan, and whether any service members in the chain of command should be disciplined, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday.

The decision on who will conduct the review will be made by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, per an order from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Once an officer is tapped, Austin expects the review to be finished within 45 days, according to Kirby.

"This would be a senior Air Force officer" who will review and make recommendations on the airstrike's process and targeting, as well as what "accountability might be appropriate and, if so, at what level," Kirby added.

The Pentagon originally said the airstrike near the Kabul airport had taken out a terrorist planner following a suicide bombing that killed 13 troops. But Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, admitted Friday that the single Hellfire missile instead had killed only civilians, including seven children, in the waning days of a military-led evacuation.

Kendall's office did not immediately provide a response Monday afternoon.

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The botched strike raised questions over the military's use of intelligence, including tips that the Islamic State-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, terrorist group would use a white Toyota to attack the airport. Drone footage also showed -- after a post-strike analysis -- evidence of other innocent people at the compound at the time of the strike.

The target, who was driving a Toyota, turned out to be a worker with a California-based aid group, and suspected bomb material was actually barrels of fresh water.

McKenzie, a four-star officer, called the killing a mistake and apologized during a public briefing to the press. The Pentagon wants to provide reparations payments to the surviving family members of the victims, he said.

The drone strike was conducted from the Kabul airport, when the U.S. military still had a presence, Kirby said. But the reviewing officer picked by Kendall will have the option of recommending discipline for personnel with a higher rank than those present at the airport.

"If the reviewing officer believes that there should be a level of accountability at a higher rank than he or she [possesses], the reviewing officer needs to make note of that to the secretary of the Air Force and the secretary of defense so that that's made clear," Kirby said.

The strike came just three days after the suicide bombing, which has been attributed to ISIS-K, was carried out among a crowd of Afghans hoping to leave the country as the Taliban took control and the U.S. pulled out all remaining military forces. The deaths of 11 Marines, a soldier and sailor resulted in one of the deadliest days for the U.S. military in a decade.

McKenzie said another U.S. strike in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, after the suicide attacks successfully killed members of ISIS-K.

-- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

Related: Kabul Drone Strike Was a 'Tragic Mistake' that Killed Civilians, Children, Pentagon Says

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