OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, as well as the Pentagon and the Biden administration in general, are being blasted by several journalists after initially claiming a deadly drone strike a few days before pulling out of Afghanistan was a righteous attack, only to walk it back on Friday.
In a briefing to reporters Sept. 1, a day after the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, Milley claimed repeatedly that U.S. intelligence was reliable while indicating that the individuals being targeted were members of ISIS-K, the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack a few days earlier that killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 160 Afghan civilians.
“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 presser along with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“Secondly, we know that there was secondary explosions,” Milley said, which would indicate that bombs or explosive devices were inside the vehicle.
“Because there was secondary explosions, there’s a reasonable conclusion to be made that there was explosives in that vehicle. The third thing, as we know from a variety of other means, that at least one of those people that were killed was an ISIS facilitator,” he added.
But, as it turned out, none of those who were killed, which included seven children, were affiliated with ISIS-K; the primary target worked with a U.S. aid organization.
“So were there others killed? Yes, there are others killed. Who they are, we don’t know. We’ll try to sort through all of that. But we believe that the procedures at this point — I don’t want to influence the outcome of an investigation — but at this point, we think that the procedures were correctly followed and it was a righteous strike,” Milley concluded.
Subsequently, The New York Times reported that after Defense Department officials bragged that “two high profile” ISIS-K militants who supposedly served as “planners and facilitators” of the Aug. 26 suicide bombing, it was revealed that 10 people killed in the attack were all Afghan civilians.
And on Friday, Pentagon officials confirmed the reporting.
“Our investigation now concludes that the strike was a tragic mistake,” the head of U.S. Central Command, Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, said.
“I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike,” McKenzie continued. “Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K or were a direct threat to U.S. forces.
“It was a mistake and I offer my sincere apology,” the four-star general went on. “I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed.
“The strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and evacuees at the airport. But it was a mistake and I offer my sincere apology, as the combatant commander, responsible for this strike and this tragic outcome,” he said.
Following McKenzie’s statement, several notable journalists took to social media to lambast the Pentagon and the Biden administration, including CNN’s Jake Tapper, who began his Friday program by calling out the “massive and deadly mistake.”
“This is a total about-face from the Pentagon’s initial denial they got anything wrong days after the attack,” Tapper told his viewers.
“A ‘mistake’ is when you forget to take out the trash, or sleep through your alarm. This is absolutely horrifying,” NBC News correspondent Garrett Haake tweeted.
“It is deeply tragic and fitting that the final American military action before withdrawing from Afghanistan was basically a signature strike — a drone attack based on pattern of behavior, not against a fully IDed target,” MSNBC editor Hayes Brown added.
“Seven kids, who ran out excitedly into the courtyard to meet their dad / uncle when he got home from work,” Axios reporter Jonathan Swan wrote on the platform.