U.S. officials called it a “righteous strike.” It was the last drone strike before the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and American officials claimed they stopped an ISIS bomb that posed an imminent threat to the Kabul airport. Turns out though that the strike appears to have killed a worker for a U.S. aid group and there are indications there were no explosives in the vehicle that was hit, according to investigations by the New York Times and Washington Post. In all, 10 civilians appeared to have been killed in the Aug. 29 strike, including seven children. They were all members of the same extended family.
At the time of the strike, tensions were high in Kabul. The United States was rushing to finish evacuations days after a suicide bombing killed 13 U.S. servicemembers and more than 170 Afghans. The military had been warning that there was a risk of another imminent attack at the airport. So it at first appeared to be good intelligence work when the military said it had carried out a drone strike on a suspected terrorist driving a car that appeared filled with explosives. The supposed terrorist had been tracked for hours and military officials said he had been acting suspiciously. To support the case, U.S. officials said there was a large secondary blast after the drone strike that suggested there were bombs inside the vehicle. But the Times and Post both say they found no evidence of a large secondary blast. Two experts the Post talked to said the evidence suggests that if there was a second blast it had to do with “an ignition of fuel tank vapors.”
Beyond the issue of the secondary blast, military officials said they didn’t know the identity of the driver of the car but said his activities that day were suspicious. The driver was identified by reporters as Zamari Ahmadi, a technical engineer at Nutrition and Education International, a California-based aid group. His co-workers said the U.S. military may have confused his everyday job as something suspicious since he transported lots of colleagues to and from work. Analysis of video evidence also suggests that what the U.S. military may have interpreted as loading explosives into the car was actually Ahmadi and a colleague loading canisters of water into the vehicle so he could take them home. Ahmadi and another member of his family had applied to be resettled as refugees in the United States.
When U.S. officials decided to strike they saw only one other man near the vehicle. What they missed though is that when Ahmadi arrived home “several of his children and his brothers’ children came out, excited to see him, and sat in the car as he backed it inside,” according to the Times. Ahmadi’s relatives said that besides the 43-year-old Ahmadi, the others who were killed in the strike included three of his children, aged 20, 16, and 10. In addition, a 30-year-old was also killed along with five other children: a seven-year-old, a six-year-old, two three-year-old girls, and a two-year-old. “All of them were innocent,” said Ahmadi’s brother. “You say he was ISIS, but he worked for the Americans.” So far, the U.S. military has only acknowledged three civilian casualties.