Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA Three days after a US drone obliterated a car in a Kabul street, General Mark Milley, shrugged off reports of civilian casualties, insisting it was a “righteous strike”.
On Friday that word came back to haunt America’s top general when the Pentagon was forced to admit that all 10 dead had been civilians, seven of them children. The drone had hit the wrong white Toyota Corolla.
It was, Milley said, a “horrible tragedy of war” and “heart-wrenching”.
It was the last act in America’s longest war, as senselessly tragic as much of the 20 years that had gone before.
It was also a blow to Milley’s credibility as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff at a time when he needs it most, at the end of a week of revelations of actions during the Trump administration that appeared to bend and possibly break the rules of how civilian leaders and generals are supposed to interact under US democracy.
Milley has already confirmed an account in the book Peril , by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Acosta, that he offered to warn his Chinese counterpart if Donald Trump ordered an attack in the last chaotic weeks of his tenure. He has not denied telling junior officers to consult him if Trump ordered a nuclear launch, an order in conflict with the official chain of command.
Related: General Milley cannot undermine civilian authority. The US is not a military junta | Lt Col Daniel L Davis (ret)
Republicans have been demanding his resignation, and even those who have defended him for being prepared to step in to possibly save the world from an arguably deranged US leader, voiced unease at the example set by a general undermining the authority of the elected commander-in-chief.
“I think he did the right thing given the terrible situation that we put him in, but it sets a terrible precedent,” said Tom Collina, policy director at the Ploughshares Fund, which advocates disarmament and non-proliferation.
“We see General Milley doing something that is very disturbing, which is to violate the distinction between civil and military authority,” Collina said “The decision to launch nuclear weapons should be a civilian decision. We decided this back in 1945. The military should not be the decider on nuclear use.”