Family says 10 of its members were killed in US drone strike in Kabul
By Matthieu Aikins
Hours after a U.S. military drone strike in Kabul on Sunday, Defense Department officials said that it had blown up a vehicle laden with explosives, eliminating a threat to Kabul’s airport from the Islamic State Khorasan group.
But at a family home in Kabul on Monday, survivors and neighbors said the strike had killed 10 people, including seven children, an aid worker for an American charity organization and a contractor with the U.S. military.
Zemari Ahmadi, who worked for the charity organization Nutrition and Education International, was on his way home from work after dropping off colleagues Sunday evening, according to relatives and colleagues interviewed in Kabul.
As he pulled into the narrow street where he lived with his three brothers and their families, the children, seeing his white Toyota Corolla, ran outside to greet him. Some clambered aboard in the street, while others gathered around as he pulled the car into the courtyard of their home.
It was then that they say the drone struck.
The missile hit the rear end of the Corolla in the narrow courtyard inside the walled family compound, blowing out doors, shattering windows and spraying shrapnel. Ahmadi and some of the children were killed inside his car; others were fatally wounded in adjacent rooms, family members said. An Afghan official confirmed that three of the dead children were transferred by ambulance from the home Sunday.
Ahmadi’s daughter Samia, 21, was inside when she was struck by the blast wave.
“At first I thought it was the Taliban,” she said. “But the Americans themselves did it.”
Samia said she staggered outside, choking, and saw the bodies of her siblings and relatives.
“I saw the whole scene,” she said. “There were burnt pieces of flesh everywhere.”
The Pentagon acknowledged the possibility that Afghan civilians had been killed in the drone strike but suggested that any civilian deaths resulted from the detonation of explosives in the vehicle that was targeted.
“We’re not in a position to dispute it,” John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said Monday about reports on the ground of civilian casualties.
He repeated earlier Pentagon statements that the military was investigating the strike on a vehicle 2 miles from Hamid Karzai International Airport.
“No military on the face of the earth works harder to avoid civilian casualties than the United States military,” Kirby said. “We take it very, very seriously. And when we know that we have caused innocent life to be lost in the conduct of our operations, we’re transparent about it.”
Among the dead was Samia’s fiance, Ahmad Naser, 30, a former army officer and contractor with the U.S. military who had come from Herat, in western Afghanistan, in the hopes of being evacuated from Kabul.
A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said Sunday that the U.S. military had carried out a drone strike against an Islamic State Khorasan vehicle planning to attack the airport. The group had claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at the airport Thursday.
On Monday, Capt. Bill Urban, the spokesman, reaffirmed an earlier statement that the military hit a valid target, an explosives-laden vehicle.
Ahmadi was a technical engineer for the local office of Nutrition and Education International, an American nonprofit based in Pasadena, California. His neighbors and relatives insisted that the engineer and his family members, many of whom had worked for the Afghan security forces, had no connection to any terrorist group.
They provided documents related to his long employment with the American charity, as well as Naser’s application for a Special Immigrant Visa, based on his service as a guard at Camp Lawton, in Herat.
“He was well respected by his colleagues and compassionate towards the poor and needy,” Steven Kwon, the president of NEI, said of Ahmadi in an email. He wrote that Ahmadi had just recently “prepared and delivered soy-based meals to hungry women and children at local refugee camps in Kabul.”