WASHINGTON (New York Times) – A newly declassified drone surveillance footage sheds more light on the closing minutes and aftermath of a botched drone strike in Kabul which took place on August 29, when the U.S. military fired upon ten innocent people, including seven children, in an incident that marked the end of the 20-year U.S. occupation in the nation.
The never-before-seen videos include around 25 minutes of silent and rather blurry footage from two drones — both reportedly MQ-9 Reapers, which according to a military official who presented the videos to the publication captured the minutes leading up to, during, and after the strike.
According to the report upon publication, the strike footage was obtained by the outlet through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against U.S. Central Command, which was in charge of the military operations in Afghanistan.
Per the standard practice of military disclosures, this is considered quite an unusual move by the Department of Defense involving an instance where an airstrike resulted in human casualties, which are usually just deemed “collateral damage”.
The films show a car approaching and backing into a courtyard on a residential street covered by walls. One of the videos contains hazy images, presumably from a camera designed to detect heat. In the minutes before a Hellfire missile engulfs the interior, hazy individuals can be seen wandering about the courtyard, and children can be seen walking on the street outside the walls. Neighbors can then be seen urgently dumping water from rooftops onto the patio.
The NYT noted that because the footage was recorded from the above perspective, the heights of most of the people inside the courtyard are virtually impossible to determine, making it difficult to identify whether they are actually children.
The video with a better view of the courtyard is in black-and-white and of poorer quality. The other footage, which is in color, starts after the car has already started backing in, but briefly switches to black-and-white, presumably due to a thermal lens, at the moment of the strike.
A Pentagon official stated in November that grainy images in the footage suggested the presence of at least one child in the blast zone approximately two minutes before the missile was launched, but that such a determination was only possible with hindsight and “the luxury of time”.
The Defense Department admitted the attack was a tragic mistake that killed innocent people while Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin offered condolences to the victims’ family members, including the family of Zamarai Ahmadi, who worked for the humanitarian organization Nutrition and Education International. Ahmadi was identified by the U.S. military as a “Daesh-Khorasan terrorist” who was allegedly planning to explode a device near Kabul’s airport, where the evacuation was underway. Austin noted the independent investigation into the drone strike has not found any link between him and Daesh-K.