Former Joint Chiefs Chair Under Obama: ‘Absolutely’ Someone Should Account for Botched Drone Strike


OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.

The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under then-President Barack Obama says that “absolutely” someone needs to be held accountable for the botched, deadly drone strike in Kabul last month that killed 10 people, including seven children.

Late last week, the Pentagon admitted, following a revealing New York Times report, that a strike intended to take out an ISIS-K figure following a suicide bombing attack at the airport in the capital city that left 13 U.S. service members dead along with about 160 Afghanis had targeted an aid worker instead, killing him and many of his family.

The current Joint Chiefs chairman, Army Gen. Mark Milley, initially claimed that the strike was righteous.

“At the time…we had very good intelligence that ISIS-K was preparing a specific type vehicle at a specific type location. We monitored that through various means and all of the engagement criteria were being met. We went through the same level of rigor that we’ve done for years and we took a strike,” Milley said at a press conference earlier this month along with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

But in fact, the intelligence was wrong, and former Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Mike Mullen believes someone “absolutely” needs to be held accountable for that.


“Absolutely. I think there should. This was obviously an incredibly complex, fast-moving situation. We lost those 13 military members a couple of days before that,” Mullen told ABC’s “This Week.” “There was clear intelligence that additional strikes were on the way, so it was in that environment in which this strike actually took place.”

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Mullen, who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the last couple years of the Bush administration and the first couple years of the Obama administration, said the botched drone strike was a “tragic, tragic mistake” and said he believed McKenzie did the right thing by apologizing. He also mentioned that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin committed to a review that he hopes will bring “accountability.”

Host Martha Raddatz noted that it took the Defense Department several days to come clean about the error after the Times report revealed who had actually been targeted along with the deaths of the children.

“I think you’re going to want to try to get this right,” Mullen responded. “Clearly they were convinced at the time it was a good strike, and it takes some time to do that, and this is the same command that’s been evacuating Afghanistan and all that that entails. I’m not overly concerned about how long it took.”


“You had an individual in a truck who was loading water,” he added. “It turned out — you know, big water bottles, all of which, sort of, fit” the intended ISIS-K figure.

“It’s almost as if we just got caught up in the specifics of it and stayed with it no matter what,” he said.

“Doing it in an extremely quick, confused, chaotic environment made this one that much more difficult and problematic,” he added.


He went on to say that Central Command chief Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie was also right to fess up to the botched operation.

“My heart goes out to those family members that were so deeply affected,” Mullen said. “And I thought what General McKenzie did was right, admit the mistake and apologize. And he also spoke later of possible reparations. And, in fact, in the end, [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin has also committed to a review that hopefully will look at accountability for this.”

As the interview was set to wrap, Raddatz asked the former Joint Chiefs chairman if there ought to be accountability for the Biden administration’s haphazard and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which involved the deaths of 11 Marines, two U.S. Army troops, and a Navy corpsman.

“I also think there should be accountability there as well,” Mullen said. “I hope there is.”

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