The US military said it is investigating reports of civilian casualties after a missile had been fired at a vehicle in a compound between two buildings near Kabul airport on Sunday (Aug.29).
The US drone strike, which the Pentagon said destroyed a vehicle carrying a suicide bomber, killed 10 members of a family, including six children, said a relative.
American officials claimed the airstrike had eliminated “an imminent Isis-K threat to Hamad Karzai airport” after individuals were seen loading explosives into the boot of a car.
But as footage showed black smoke rising from a residential building northwest of the airport, reports began to emerge of at least three civilian deaths, citing an Afghan police chief.
A statement released concurrently by US army Captain Bill Urban said: “We are assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, though we have no indications at this time.”
By Monday morning, the alleged civilian death toll had risen higher still. Speaking to the BBC from Kabul, a man named Ramin Yousufi described losing 10 relatives in the blast.
Mr. Yousufi said his cousin – a 40-year-old charity worker and “the head of our family” – had returned home from work and was outside with his children when the drone hit the car. He died in the blast alongside nine other members of his family, including a 19-year-old and six children, the youngest aged two, Mr. Yousufi said.
Emal Ahmadi, another relative, said it was his two-year-old daughter who was killed in the strike, according to the BBC. He said the family had applied for evacuation and was waiting to go to the airport.
CNN also independently reported that nine members of a family – including six children – died in the blast, quoting a brother of one of those killed.
Another neighbour told the US news organisation that they estimated that there might have been up to 20 people killed in the strike, adding: “Not much is left of their house and nothing can be recognised, they are in pieces.”
The Associated Press had earlier carried comments from a district representative in Kabul, who said the airstrike ignited a fire that made it difficult to rescue people. “There was smoke everywhere and I took some children and women out,” he said.
A neighbour called Ahmaduddin told the news agency he had collected the bodies of children after the strike, which set off more explosions inside the house.
In a statement published on Sunday night, the US military acknowledged the reports of civilian deaths and said it was investigating further, adding: “We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life.”
“We are still assessing the results of this strike, which we know disrupted an imminent Isis-K threat to the airport,” said Captain Urban, of US Central Command.
“We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties.”
On Monday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby defended the intelligence about “what we believed to be a very real, a very specific and a very imminent threat” as he told reporters: “Make no mistake, no military on the face of the earth works harder to avoid civilian casualties than the United States military, and nobody wants to see innocent life taken.”
The drone strike came just three days after a suicide bombing at Kabul airport, claimed by Isis-K, took the lives of as many as 170 Afghan civilians and 13 American troops. (Source: Independent)