KABUL, Afghanistan – They’re still waiting.
Relatives of the 10 innocent Afghans killed in a US drone strike before the Biden administration’s frenetic August departure from Afghanistan say they haven’t received any contact from Washington, let alone condolences or compensation, more than two months after the tragic blast.
“No one has directly contacted with us; we have only heard apologies through the media,” Aimal Ahmadi, 32, who is the brother of the mistaken target Zmaray and lost his 3-year-old daughter Malika in the US drone strike, said wearily from the abandoned Kabul home.
Last week, the Pentagon declared it had concluded its probe into the Aug. 29 Kabul drone strike. A release pegged the blast an “honest mistake” and stated that military or international laws of war were not violated, nor was criminal negligence involved. Instead, Lt. Gen. Sami Said, the Inspector General of the Air Force, blamed “confirmation bias,” “communication breakdowns,” and “execution errors.”
“I heard that the USA says it does its work honestly, but this is not honesty,” Aimal says of the report. “We are all civilians. My brother did not have contact with any military. Yet they targeted this area.”
The report remains classified, raising concerns over the Defense Department’s lack of transparency and how the intelligence for the hit – purported to be on an ISIS-K operative preparing to carry out an imminent attack on US interests – was sourced and disseminated.
The strike, coming just three days after 13 American troops and more than 180 Afghans were killed in an ISIS-K attack on the fringes of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, was touted as a victory by Washington. However, almost three weeks later, officials confirmed that the “target” was in fact not a terrorist at all. It was 38-year-old Zmaray Ahmadi, a longtime aid-worker for an American humanitarian organization. The young children rushing to greet him on his return from work were also slain. The NGO worker was loading water – not explosives – into his car, surrounded by children when the hellfire missile was unleashed.
The ten victims all lived together with 15 other extended family members, including Zmaray’s three brothers. Zmaray, whose name has been spelled in previous reports as “Zemari,” was killed along with three of his children: Farzad, 11; Faisal, 16, and his oldest, Zamir, 20, a student. In addition to Aimal’s daughter Malika, a great-niece, Sumaya, just 2-years-old, was also killed, along with Zmaray’s nephew, Naser, 30 – who had worked closely with US Special Forces in Kandahar and was less than a week away from getting married.
Zmaray’s youngest brother, Romal, who was sitting in the living room when the drone struck, lost all three of his children: daughter Ayat, 2; and sons Bin Yamin, 6, and Arwin, 7.
“No one has contacted us at all,” fellow brother Ajmal Ahmadi, 33, affirms.
He winces as he speaks of the fractured family and says that they would regularly come to the charred home but would cry so much that their older brother removed the Toyota Corolla targeted in the attack a few weeks ago. The car parked beside it, scorched and gray, still languishes in the courtyard.
“Last time we came, someone lost consciousness. So we cannot come here; the mothers are not in good condition,” Ajmal continues. “The family is still in shock. We haven’t recovered.”
And Aimal is left with only one surviving 7-year-old daughter, who is still in deep shock and confusion.
“She talks about the situation every day, trying to remember her sister, and all I can say is that she is in hospital,” he continues, his eyes dropping to the floor. “We are not fine.”
The family was living in the humble home, located in Kabul’s Khwaja Bughra district two miles from the airport, waiting with high hopes to be called for an evacuation flight. Aimal had filed his Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) application – having worked in data entry and identification card printing for US contracting company DynCorp between 2011 and 2014. Several other family members in the home also worked for various international organizations throughout the protracted war.
They were waiting with bated breath for the call to head to the airport when tragedy struck.
Ajmal says that everything they have learned about the unfolding situation is all through the media, and they are now living “high up in the mountains” at his sister’s place.
Press reports have indicated that the United States government is making monetary compensation to the family and is expediting the survivors’ visas to leave the war-shattered country for greener pastures in the US, only the family asserts that no such gesture has come their way. Rather, such reports have endangered the mourning relatives even further – under the false guise that they are suddenly flush with cash and planning a hasty escape.
Moreover, Aimal points out that he has not heard a single word about his SIV case.
“All I have is the automated reply message from the application. And now my whole family is even more under threat, we are (scared) to go to the bazaar or city because everyone is saying that the (Americans) gave us huge money,” he notes. “But unfortunately, we didn’t get any money.”
Aimal also stresses that money is not important to the grieving family – they simply want to get out of Afghanistan and leave behind the memories of loss and suffering.
“My message to America is that they should follow our case faster,” Aimal pleads. “They killed innocent people.”
Stepping back into the narrow alleyway, the sounds of a few neighborhood children playing in the fading sunshine clearly cut through the grief-stricken father’s heart. Three months ago, their own family was playing joyfully, too.
“It is such a bad feeling here, thinking about the kids playing in the yard and when my brother would come home and honk the horn, and they would run to him,” Ajmal adds, his shoulders slumped as if bearing the weight of the world. “(America) has not been honest in their commitments. So we feel like we are always under threat, and we just want to go out as soon as we can.”