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No U.S. troops will be punished for mistaken Afghan drone strike, officials say

The strike killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, in Kabul on Aug. 29.
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No U.S. military personnel will be reprimanded for the August drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, two defense officials said Monday. 

The strike was launched three days after a deadly suicide bombing outside Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. military members and scores of Afghan civilians. The U.S. had intelligence that the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the militant group's Afghanistan affiliate, was plotting an attack against the airport using a white Toyota Corolla, but they began tracking the wrong vehicle after it showed up at a known ISIS-K location, according to a Pentagon review.

The review found that the incident did not violate any laws of war but left decisions on punishment up to the commanders. The two senior commanders — Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Rich Clarke, head of U.S. Special Operations Command — both recommended no punishment for the troops involved, according to the officials, who also said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin agreed.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed the news, which was first reported by The New York Times, at a Monday afternoon news conference.

"It wasn’t an outcome that we came to without careful thought and consideration," Kirby said. "There was not a strong enough case to be made for personal accountability."

The driver of the Toyota, Zemari Ahmadi, worked for a California-based aid organization, Nutrition & Education International.

“This decision is shocking,” said Dr. Steven Kwon, the founder and president of the aid group. “How can our military wrongly take the lives of 10 precious Afghan people, and hold no one accountable in any way?”

The incident occurred during a chaotic period in Kabul when the U.S. was working to evacuate thousands of Americans, Afghans and other allies in the aftermath of the collapse of the country’s government. 

The vehicle driven by Ahmadi – the intended target of the strike — was assessed at the time as an imminent threat to U.S. forces at Hamid Karzai International Airport, 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) away. Multiple issues, including execution errors, confirmation bias and communication breakdowns, led to the mistaken drone strike, according to the review. 

 The 10 dead Afghan civilians were all members of the same extended family, relatives told NBC News, and included the seven children, some as young as 2 and 3.

In September, McKenzie made a rare public admission that the strike “was a mistake,” and said he is “fully responsible for this strike and the tragic outcome.”

The Pentagon has vowed to provide condolence payments to the victims' relatives and help them relocate to the U.S., but the payments have yet to be made and the family members are still in Afghanistan, officials said.