Air Force Secretary Taps Watchdog to Weigh Accountability in Botched Kabul Airstrike

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U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said, Inspector General of the Air Force, visited members of the Air Force Inspection Agency at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., July 26, 2019. (Kimberly Nagle/U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force secretary has picked Lt. Gen. Sami Said, the service's inspector general, to review an airstrike in the waning days of the military evacuation from Afghanistan that mistakenly killed 10 civilians, a spokesperson said Tuesday.

The service is asking Said to consider whether anyone in the chain of command should be held accountable for what Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, called a tragic mistake.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered the review, which also will examine the process that led to the strike, to be completed in 45 days, with Said's recommendations on accountability delivered to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

A single Hellfire missile hit the driver of a white Toyota at a compound near Kabul airport on Aug. 29, days after a suicide bombing killed 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghans. The Pentagon initially said an Islamic State-Khorasan terrorist planner was killed, but the driver was a worker with a California-based aid group and the missile strike killed family members too, including seven children.

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Kendall was tasked by Austin to pick a senior officer to lead the review, the Pentagon said Monday.

Said, a command pilot with 2,200 flight hours, is the service watchdog responsible for reviewing issues of readiness, efficiency and discipline, as well as fraud, waste and abuse, according to his official biography.

He will "investigate the facts and circumstances" of the strike last month, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek wrote in an email statement. "Lt. Gen. Said will report directly to Secretary Kendall."

On Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the officer appointed by Kendall could recommend accountability for service members involved in the civilian deaths, and will be required to notify both Kendall and Austin if the recommendations deal with anyone at a higher rank. Said is a three-star officer at the O-9 paygrade.

The strike was conducted by a team at the Kabul airport, according to Kirby. McKenzie, a four-star general officer, admitted the error and publicly apologized during a briefing to reporters on Friday.

-- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

Related: Kabul Drone Strike Was a 'Tragic Mistake' that Killed Civilians, Children, Pentagon Says

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