Since the evacuation of military forces in Afghanistan, the Biden administration has been very quiet about the topic of the evacuation and drone strike on civilians.
The Departments of Defense and State promised reviews of their various parts of the operation, Defense for its role in a drone strike that left 10 civilians, including seven children, dead and State for its incomplete evacuation of Americans and allies from the country.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin promised a report within 45 days by a three-star official.
The officer getting the nod to investigate was Air Force Lt. Gen. Sami Said, his service’s inspector general.
His report was announced at a press conference on Nov. 3 hosted by spokesman John Kirby.
It was limited to the drone strike August 29 that led to civilian deaths instead of terrorists U.S. forces suspected of preparing an attack on Americans.
Said began by noting that much of the report is “classified.” Many details, which could be useful for the public to review were left out of the briefing, and perhaps will never be known.
He said he believed that “(i)ndividuals involved in this strike, interviewed during this investigation, truly believed at the time that they were targeting an imminent threat to U.S. forces.” No names of individuals involved were discussed.
The investigation made it clear that “you can see that there were opportunities to potentially conduct the assessment more carefully, given time,” Said said.
Firing on the white Corolla that was thought to be carrying terrorists was based on an “assessment (that) was primarily driven by interpretation of intelligence and correlating that to observe(d) movement throughout an eight-hour window in which the vehicle was tracked throughout the day…”
Said “found no violation of law, including the law of war. It did find execution errors, confirmed by confirmation — or combined with confirmation bias and communication breakdowns…”
He made three recommendations in the report. All are unclear and are likely reliant on classified information that he did not share.
The first was “implementing procedures to mitigate the risk of confirmation bias.”
Second, was “enhancing situational awareness by sharing information that is very thoroughly-shared within the confines of the strike cell and within a bubble within that strike cell.”
The third recommendation, based on the “assessment of civilians, specifically children in the compound (that was) inaccurate” is for a “review of how that assessment is conducted, again, under rapid strikes, where you’re exercising something in a time-constrained fashion.”
Said’s findings, beyond stating he saw no evidence of criminal conduct, are ultimately left to the chain of command for any personnel action.
“The fact that I’ve sent this to the chain of command, that’s where it belongs,” he said, emphasizing that the commanders “can de-credential folks. They can retrain folks. They can fire folks.”
One interesting item Said noted was that “in the retrograde window over four months this was the only strike conducted under self-defense. Actually, if you go back a year I’m almost confident with this. In the last year in Afghanistan, we didn’t do any self-defense strikes…”
Given that this strike was just days after the attack at the Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul that resulted in 13 dead servicemembers, it is worth at least more elaboration as to why this situation was so different than all others that it required a “self-defense” attack, especially since there were no terrorists involved after all.
One question not brought up or addressed was whether there was pressure from higher headquarters to attack more quickly than usual given the recent attack at the airport.
This conclusion is likely the last the public will hear on the matter from DoD.
In sum, the public knows almost nothing more about the drone strike than the average citizen could have surmised.
Silence so far from the State Department.
Diana Shaw, the department’s inspector general, will conduct “several” reviews ordered by Secretary Antony Blinken.
Topics will include “the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program; Afghans processed for refugee admission in the United States; the resettlement of Afghan refugees and visa recipients; and the embassy in Kabul’s emergency action planning and execution, ‘including the evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals.’”
Including varied topics may muddle the importance of the evacuation and will give media room to distract from the evacuation.
Expect calls for more process reviews and having career staff address personnel mistakes – none which will touch the secretary’s office.