Pentagon unable to dispute civilian casualties, defends drone strike on 'imminent threat’

Taliban previously offered to let the US secure Kabul: report

Retired U.S. Army General Don Bolduc joins ‘The Next Revolution’ to discuss the chaotic scene in Afghanistan

The Pentagon on Monday did not dispute that civilian casualties might have resulted from Sunday’s U.S. drone strike on ISIS-K suicide bombers before they could attack the ongoing military evacuation at Kabul’s airport, saying the strike was to protect against a “very imminent threat.”

The Taliban claimed that the airstrike killed at least 10 people, including civilians and three children. 

When asked about potential civilian casualties Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the military is “not in a position to dispute it right now,” but noted that they are “assessing” and “investigating.” 

“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,” Kirby explained. “We take it very, very seriously.” 

Kirby continued, saying that when the U.S. military knows that they have “caused innocent life to be lost in the conduct of our operations, we’re transparent about it.” 

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — AUGUST 30, 2021: Relatives and neighbors of the Ahmadi family gathered around the incinerated husk of a vehicle targeted and hit earlier Sunday afternoon by an American drone strike, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. (MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES)
(MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES)

“We’re investigating this. I’m not going to get ahead of it, but if we have verifiable information that we did, in fact, take innocent life here, then we will be transparent about that too,” Kirby said. “Nobody wants to see that happen.” 

“But you know what else we didn’t want to see happen? We didn’t want to see what we believe a very real, a very specific and a very imminent threat to the Hamid Karzai International Airport and to our troops operating at that airport, as well as civilians around it and in it,” Kirby continued. 

He added: “That was another thing that we were very, very concerned about.” 

As for additional potential threats to U.S. troops in Afghanistan ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. assets,  Kirby said there is an “active threat in various ways that we have to be prepared for.” 

Kirby added that the U.S. military has and “will continue to have and will maintain the capability to protect ourselves and defend ourselves as we complete the retrograde.” 

“We are operating under the assumption that we need to be prepared for future potential threats,” Kirby continued, saying that the “threat stream is still real, still active, and in many cases, is still specific.” 

“The threat remains high and remains real,” Kirby said, adding that U.S. military forces on the ground in Kabul have “worked out a very carefully coordinated method of safely completing this retrograde.” 

When asked to detail that method, Kirby replied: “We are in a particularly dangerous time now, not that it hasn’t always been dangerous, but it is particularly dangerous now, and we are not going to detail every aspect of our troop protection … while we have troops in harm’s way and while we try to get people out of Afghanistan.” 

With regard to ISIS-K, the group that claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 13 U.S. service members last week in a suicide bombing outside the Karzai airport, Kirby said that the group poses a “dynamic, moving, fluid, quick” threat. 

The deadline for all U.S. troops and diplomats to be out of Afghanistan is 3:29 p.m. EST Tuesday – 11:59 p.m. local time in Kabul, U.S. defense officials told Fox News. It will mark the first time in nearly 20 years that no U.S. troops will be on the ground in Afghanistan.

According to the White House, on Sunday, a total of approximately 1,200 people were evacuated from Kabul. The White House said that evacuation was the result of 26 U.S. military flights, 26 C-17s, which carried approximately 1,200 evacuees, and two coalition flights, which carried 50 people.

The White House said Monday that since Aug. 14, when the mission began, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 116,700 people. And since the end of July, the White House said the U.S. has relocated nearly 122,300 people from Afghanistan.

The president had authorized 6,000 U.S. troops to deploy to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation mission, as the Taliban is pushing to restore the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the formal name of the country under Taliban rule before militants were ousted by U.S.-led forces in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were orchestrated by al Qaeda while it was being sheltered by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon, on Monday, did not provide the current number of U.S. troops on the ground, but maintained that the withdrawal would take place as planned. 

As for the airport in Kabul where the U.S. military has been evacuating Americans and vulnerable Afghans, the Pentagon said it would “remain operational through our final flights.” 

“What it looks like after we are gone, I would just point you to what the secretary of state said,” Kirby said Monday, referring to the State Department’s statement signed by nearly 100 countries, as well as NATO and the European Union, last week that said they had received “assurances” from the Taliban that people with travel documents will still be able to leave the country. 

The Taliban has said they will allow normal travel after the U.S. withdrawal is completed on Tuesday when they assume control of the airport. 

“This is not a U.S. military function, and not a U.S. military responsibility once we have completed the retrograde,” Kirby said. 

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson, Jennifer Griffin and the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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