CIA Warned About Civilians Seconds Before Drone Hit

Word came too late to stop the missile that killed 10 people
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 18, 2021 4:15 PM CDT
CIA Warned of Civilians Just After Strike's Launch
The Ahmadi family prays Monday at a cemetery next to the graves of family members killed by a US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. The family wants the US government to investigate the Aug. 29 attack.   (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

(Newser) – A Hellfire missile was on its way to its target, a white Corolla in Kabul, when the CIA realized there were civilians in the area, maybe even children in the vehicle. The agency issued an urgent warning to the US military seconds before the missile struck, killing 10 civilians, seven of them children, CNN reports. At the time, the Defense Department said it had targeted an Islamic State extremist. After defending the Aug. 29 attack, Pentagon officials apologized for it Friday, calling the strike a mistake and confirming that only civilians were killed. The CIA and US Central Command issued no comment about the warning.

The futile warning raises questions about who controls such attacks, per CNN. Intelligence and defense agencies have joined forces to plan and carry out similar strikes for years, with intelligence officials handling surveillance of a possible target, sometimes with drones. The military would receive that intelligence, but the decision on attacking would still be up to the military commander on the ground. Officials say dividing the mission responsibilities can increase the risk of mistakes. In this case, it's not clear whether the CIA knew the decision had been made to launch.

"If they tasked the agency with looking at the target for indications of 'go' or 'no go' criteria, they should have had the ability to get that information and affect whether they launched a strike," said Mick Mulroy, a former CIA and Pentagon official who said he has no inside knowledge of this attack. "If there was no way to know that they were about to launch, there's something really wrong there." Although members of Congress have promised to find out where the Aug. 29 strike went wrong, American officials said civilian casualties in US attacks in Afghanistan have been a consistent failing. "It is a pretty good encapsulation of the entire 20-year war," one said. (Read more Afghanistan stories.)

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