CENTCOM commander Gen. Frank McKenzie apologized Friday after an investigation revealed that the U.S had killed an innocent man, Zemari Ahmadi — and nine other civilians, including seven children — rather than ISIS-K terrorists Aug. 29. Though McKenzie accepted responsibility for what he called a “tragic mistake,” he did not resign. Instead, he provided an explanation of the circumstances for the strike, suggesting that the Pentagon believes it was legal under international law. McKenzie told the media that the military had acted on intelligence that a “white Toyota Corolla” — one of the most common automobiles — would mount an attack. At no point did the military know who was driving the targeted vehicle. As Breitbart News explained last week: “International law permits the use of such targeted killings, under restricted circumstances. The target must be an enemy combatant; the target generally must pose an imminent or ongoing threat; and the attack must minimize the risk to non-combatants.” Mistaken identity, or other mistakes, do not by themselves constitute violations of international law, but if the strike was negligent, or improperly motivated, there could be legal consequences. Under customary international law, the U.S. is required to investigate alleged violations of international law. The Pentagon appears to think it has satisfied that requirement. But there are several questions that still remain about the Aug. 29 strike:
1. What did President Joe Biden know, and did he authorize the strike? White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Aug. 30 that Biden had delegated authority to the military, but was “regularly briefed.” What did he know? Did he give the green light?
2. Were there political motivations behind the strike? Did the White House pressure the Pentagon to come up with some kind of response to the Aug. 26 suicide bombing, to provide political cover for the administration’s bungled withdrawal?
3. Why would the military launch an airstrike against an unknown person, absent compelling evidence of imminent threat? The most shocking aspect of the strike was that the Pentagon did not know who was in the vehicle.
4. Was the U.S. fed bad intelligence by the Taliban or other bad actors? There has long been suspicion that different groups in Afghanistan feed false information to the U.S. to take out their rivals. Is that what happened in the Kabul strike?
5. What does taking “full responsibility”mean? Where are the hearings, resignations, prosecutions, demotions, or firings? McKenzie did not rule out further consequences in his Pentagon press briefing, but declined to lead by example.
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