Relatives of Afghan aid worker killed in US strike not yet in US, lawyer says


More than a year later a wrong US drone strike killed Afghan aid worker Zemari Ahmadi and nine members of his family, only a handful of his relatives and colleagues have been transferred to the US, says a lawyer for the nonprofit that employed Ahmadi.

In the year since the tragic strike, the Ministry of Defense and the Biden administration have sworn many times to compensate the family and help all family members who want to leave Afghanistan and settle in the US

Brett Max Kaufman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union representing California Nutrition & Education International, or NEI, who employed Ahmadi for 15 years, said 11 Afghans have reached the US out of a total of 144 family members and colleagues who try to leave since the deadly strike on Aug. 29, 2021. About 100 are relatives of Ahmadis, while the rest are other NEI employees and their families, Kaufman said.

More than 100 of the aid workers and their families have been able to flee Afghanistan, Kaufman said, confirming two US defense officials. About 40 are in Albania, and others have gone to Kosovo and Qatar, but all are waiting to be moved to the US. Thirty-two Afghans from the group have been unable to flee the country, officials said.

A man bids farewell to Zemari Ahmadi in his coffin during a mass funeral on August 30, 2021, for members of a family killed in a US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan.Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

Some Afghans have made it through charter flights to transit countries, but they require passports and documentation, limiting who can fly. At least one group escaped by passing through Pakistan, but a second group attempting the same route was turned back at the border, Kaufman said.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to provide details on the matter, saying in a statement: “The Department of Defense, in coordination with other US government departments and agencies, continues to take steps to respond to the August 29, 2021 airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan. . To protect the privacy of the family members and to help protect their safety and security, we are unable to provide more information about these efforts at this time.”

Defense officials could not say whether family members have received the condolence payments promised by the Biden administration.

‘I am fully responsible’

The drone attack came three days after a suicide bombing by Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the militant group’s Afghan affiliate, killed 13 US servicemen and more than 100 Afghan civilians at the Kabul airport. Tensions were high as the US military braced for another attack after US intelligence warned that ISIS-K planned to storm the airport again, this time with a white Toyota Corolla.

The US military initially defended the attack. On September 1, 2021, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Mark Milley said the strike killed at least one ISIS facilitator, pointing to “secondary explosions” as evidence that explosives were in the vehicle. He said procedures were followed and called it a “just strike”.

Caskets for the dead are carried to the grave as family members and friends mourn the dead in a US drone strike on August 30, 2021.Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

Later that month, the then commander of the US Central Command said further investigations revealed that the attack had actually killed civilians and that it was “a mistake”.

“This strike was taken in the genuine belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our troops and the evacuees at the airport, but it was a mistake,” said Major General Frank McKenzie. “As the combatant commander, I am fully responsible for this strike and its tragic outcome.”

A Pentagon review later found that US military oversight may have misinterpreted information, mistaking the water bottles that Ahmadi loaded and unloaded into his Corolla for explosives. Ahmadi’s vehicle was spotted by the US and assessed as an imminent threat to the airport, about 2.9 miles away.

Multiple issues, including confirmation bias and communication failures, led to the wrong drone strike, the review concluded. A US military video released with the review showed Ahmadi parking the Corolla near his house and a young boy running to greet him just as the explosives hit. Seven of the dead were children, the youngest a 2-year-old girl.

The US military review found that the incident did not violate any laws of war, but it left decisions about punishment to the military leadership. The two top commanders at the time, Centcom’s McKenzie and Army General Richard Clarke, who was then the commander of the US Special Operations Command, both advised against punishing the troops involved. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin agreed.

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