Limited communications and “confirmation bias” led to US airstrike that killed 10 Afghan civilians, says Air Force IG

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In this file photo from Sunday, August 29, 2021, Afghans inspect damage to the Ahmadi family’s home after a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. The strike killed 10 civilians, including seven children. (Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi / AP)

WASHINGTON – Confirmation bias, limited communication and a high threat environment led to the army airstrike on August 29 that mistakenly killed 10 Afghan civilians, the army general said on Wednesday. Sami Said looked, but no criminal negligence was to blame.

Air Force Inspector General Said said his examination of the airstrike did not reveal any foul play, calling it “an honest mistake.” Operators believed they were targeting a car with ISIS fighters and explosives when they launched the attack, but further investigation revealed it was a civilian vehicle with packages .

“I found, given the information they had, the analysis they did – I understand they came to the wrong conclusions – but… was it reasonable to conclude what they concluded on the basis of what they had? It was not unreasonable, ”Said said.

Said was ordered in September to review the investigation into the drone strike which found that three men and seven children were killed in the attack which took place three days after the death of 13 US soldiers in a Islamic State attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

US and coalition troops were there to evacuate Americans and Afghans from the country in the final days of the US military’s involvement in Afghanistan.

“The problem here is figuring out what we could have done best to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Said said. “I have never found a case where someone asks me the question ‘Why did you decide this?’ and I had crickets or I had an illogical response.

Said told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday that his investigation uncovered “execution errors combined with confirmation bias and communication disruptions which unfortunately resulted in civilian casualties.”

Confirmation bias occurs when a person interprets a series of intelligence reports or other information in a way that supports a hypothesis without considering other theories, Said said.

“You can interpret intelligence in a way that leads you to believe more that it is the vehicle of interest, but you can also interpret it as benign,” Said said.

To resolve the issues, the classified report made three recommendations to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

The report recommended implementing strike cell procedures to mitigate the risk of confirmation bias and to share situational awareness information more widely across the strike cell and with support elements operating elsewhere.

“[It] provide better insight and overlap of what exactly we are looking at? What do we see what else could it be? Are we interpreting intelligence appropriately or not? Said said.

The general said the timing of the attack on U.S. forces caused airstrike operators to be on high alert for potential threats, contributing to confirmation bias that led the military to accidentally target civilians.

“With the attack that happened three days before… you can imagine that the stress on the force is high and the risk of straining is high, and not appreciate [the incident] through that lens I think it would be inappropriate, ”Said said.

The report also recommended a review of how strike cells assess the presence of civilians in strike zones after investigation found that a child was visible on video from the targeted Kabul compound two minutes before US operators won’t launch the airstrike, Said said.

Said and his investigators were able to see the child in the strike zone video feed two minutes before the strike started, but the child was “100% not obvious” and went unnoticed by strike operators.

“The physical evidence of a child was apparent about the two-minute point, but I’m just telling you… you have to be like, no kidding looking for it,” Said said.

The target was a white Toyota Corolla about 1.5 miles from the airport which strike operators said was filled with packages containing explosives. U.S. officials within hours of the attack said secondary explosions after the airstrike indicated the intelligence was correct, but Said said further technical analysis concluded it may be propane tanks, not bombs.

Said said the report detailed other correlations between the civilian car and ISIS’s Corolla, which made it “reasonable to conclude that it should be a vehicle of interest”, but it does not could not provide additional information because the report is classified. The true corolla associated with terrorists has never been found.

“Those interviewed during this investigation really believed at the time that they were targeting an imminent threat to US forces on [the airport]”Said said.” The intended target of the attack on the vehicle – the white Corolla, its contents and its occupants – was seen as a real threat to US forces at the time. ”

Said said he “had not found any violations of the law or the law of war,” but the report will be sent to the chain of command to decide whether anyone should be held responsible for the strike.

“I haven’t ruled out accountability – that’s the commander’s business,” Said said. “They can decrement people, they can retrain people, they can fire people, they can do a variety of different things. … The fact that I did not call anybody with responsibility, that does not mean that the command will not do it.

Caitlin doornbos



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