Three of the U.S. military’s top officials have told Congress that they realized within hours that a botched Aug. 29 drone strike had killed innocent civilians—contradicting earlier military statements about what the government knew in the aftermath of the incident.
“We knew the strike hit civilians within four to five hours after the strike occurred, and U.S. Central Command issued a press release saying that,” Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie told members of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on Sept. 29, in responding to questions from Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Miss.).
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also said the Pentagon knew about civilian deaths within “several hours” of the strike, as did Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
However, the latter part of McKenzie’s statement is false. CENTCOM statements following the drone strike don’t note civilian deaths.
The first Aug. 29 CENTCOM release regarding the incident said CENTCOM was “assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, though we have no indications at this time.”
When media reports trickled out later that day about civilian deaths, CENTCOM issued a follow-up statement also failing to acknowledge the deaths.
“We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today,” the second release reads. “It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further.”
The same statements from CENTCOM also note that the drone strike eliminated an “imminent ISIS-K threat” to the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, and that secondary explosions may have occurred—both of which also proved to be untrue.
McKenzie also told HASC members on Sept. 29 that the Pentagon learned “a few days later” that the strike didn’t hit its intended target. But the Pentagon didn’t admit that until Sept. 17.
For weeks, U.S. military leaders repeatedly portrayed the strike as a successful attack, even as family members of the deceased insisted there was no connection between them and the ISIS offshoot.
By Ken Silva