Military analysis raises questions about deadly drone strike in Kabul


WASHINGTON – A senior US military officer confirmed last week that a drone attack on a car near the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, was a “good blow” that thwarted a plot by the Islamic State in the final hours of the war. Huge evacuation effort.

Lieutenant General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that secondary explosions after the explosion. Drone attack Last Sunday he supported the military’s conclusion that the vehicle contained explosives – either explosive vests or a large explosive device. General Milley said military planners had taken appropriate precautions in advance to reduce risks to civilians nearby.

But military officials acknowledge that the military’s initial analysis of the strike and the circumstances surrounding it provide less conclusive evidence to support these claims. It also raises questions about an attack his friends and family say to the driver 10 people were killed, seven of them were children.

To date, there is no conclusive evidence of explosives in the car. Preliminary analysis says it is “possible” to be so, according to officials briefed on the assessment. Drone operators and analysts surveyed the narrow courtyard where the car had been parked for only a few seconds. Officials said the commander ordered the strike, because he had not seen any civilians, only to broadcast a grainy live video to show other characters approaching the vehicle seconds later as the Hellfire missile approached its target.

But military officials say the initial analysis also supports a very strong circumstantial case of an imminent and serious threat to the airport, one that US planners built over an eight-hour period last Sunday to monitor the sedan’s movements and eavesdrop on the communications of suspected co-conspirators.

With each passing hour, American analysts watched in horror as successive parts of a plot to launch a complex attack seemed to “line up,” a senior military official familiar with the investigation said. Talk intensified that the airport would be a target again, with President Biden publicly A warning that another attack was “highly likely”.

The commander overseeing the drone strike faced a difficult decision: Take the shot while the car is parked in a relatively secluded courtyard, or wait until the car approaches the airport—and crowds grow—which increases the risk to civilians.

According to four US officials who have seen the initial military analysis, or parts of it, this is how the strike occurred.

At about 9 a.m. last Sunday, a white sedan, likely a Toyota Corolla, pulled up from a compound located five kilometers northwest of Hamid Karzai International Airport. Based on information from informants, electronic eavesdropping and photos from US surveillance planes, intelligence analysts believed that the complex was a safe home for planners and facilitators. Islamic State of Khorasan, or ISIS-KThe terrorist group’s branch in Afghanistan.

That was just three days after suicidal The subsidiary detonated an unusually large 25-pound explosive vest at the entrance to the airport’s Abbey Gate, spraying lethal shrapnel into a 70-foot radius and 13 US soldiers and more than 170 Afghan civilians were killed.

US intelligence analysts intercepted messages from ISIS-K . conspirators that another major attack on the airport was in preparation. The attack was imminent that Sunday, two days before the United States was scheduled Ending Evacuation Efforts.

Thus, any car coming or going from the complex that morning aroused the interest of analysts. But the operators paid special attention to the white sedan on the black and white feed of an MQ-9 Reaper drone flying over Kabul.

Intercepted communications from the safe house indicated that the planners there were directing the vehicle on an indirect mission in the Afghan capital. The driver was directed to meet a motorcyclist. Moments later, the car did just that.

This pattern continued for several hours, as the sedan stopped in Kabul several times, sometimes picking up and dropping off passengers.

Just before 4 p.m., the car drove into a compound unknown to the Americans, eight to 12 kilometers southwest of the airport. After a few minutes, the driver and three other men carried several packages wrapped in the trunk of the car. To analysts watching the video, the men seemed to make an effort to lift and carry heavy packages with extreme caution – as with explosives.

The driver and men got into the car and drove away, heading north, where the driver dropped the men along the road. By about 4:45 p.m., the driver, now alone, broke into a small yard about 2.5 kilometers west of the airport, just south of the original safe house. Another man came to greet him.

At this point, the tactical commander in control of the Reaper armed drones had to make a quick decision. His authority to strike was delegated by General Kenneth F. Mackenzie Jr., head of the Army’s Central Command in Tampa, Florida. Military officials declined to identify the commander, his rank or organization, but said he was an experienced worker who had carried out several drone strikes in many of the theaters where the military had fought.

The rules of engagement allowed the military to launch a strike if the operators and intelligence analysts had “reasonable certainty” that they had a legitimate ISIS target in Khorasan and assessed that there was “reasonable certainty” that there were no women, children, or other civilian non-combatants. He will be killed or injured.

Staff quickly scanned the nearby boundary of the yard and only saw the other man talking to the driver. The commander concluded that this was the best time and place to shoot. If the Americans waited and the car rolled into busy city traffic or approached the airport, the danger to civilians would be much greater – either from a drone strike, detonating explosive vests, or a massive car bomb.

The Americans took the lead. Hellfire hit his target in less than a minute. As the missile approached, the drone operators could see in the video that other characters were approaching the sedan.

Hellfire, with a warhead containing 20 pounds of explosive, pierced the vehicle, causing the first explosion at 4:50 p.m. A few seconds later, a larger fireball boomed. Officials say an initial assessment by explosives experts concluded that it was “likely” that explosives in the sedan caused the second explosion, not a gas tank or something else.

Military analysis acknowledged the deaths of at least three civilians. General Milley told reporters that at least one person killed was an “associate of ISIS”.

But other Pentagon officials also say they have little information on the driver, who was identified by colleagues and family members as Zimari Ahmadi. His neighbors, colleagues, and relatives said he was a technical engineer at Nutrition and Education International, a Pasadena, California-based charity, and had no ties to ISIS.

Military officials concluded that Mr. Ahmadi was an ISIS-K facilitator largely due to his actions as a driver from the moment the white car pulled out of the safe house until he was killed in the strike.

Immediately after the attack, any ISIS-K chatter fell silent. To protect the security of their operations, group members emerge in the dark after a drone strike like the one that took place last Sunday, knowing that US officials will listen. A senior US military official said that silence continued into Friday.

John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said last week that an in-depth investigation into the strike was underway. It will be based on more detailed analyzes of videos of the strike and its aftermath, and other intelligence. Investigators were unable to reach the site of the strike, which, like the rest of Kabul, is under Taliban control.

Meanwhile, senior military officials insist that the drone strike prevented more American and Afghan casualties.

At a press conference on Monday, General McKenzie, the commander of Central Command, did not provide any details about the circumstances surrounding the strike other than to say that it dealt a crushing blow to ISIS as it sought to carry out one last attack before the attack. US withdrawal.

General Meili echoed those comments a few days later. “At this point we believe the procedures were followed correctly and this was a valid strike,” he told reporters. “Were others killed? Yes, others were killed. Who are they, we don’t know.”

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