Connecticut Post (Sunday)
U.S. plans to make ‘condolence payments’ to families of Afghans killed in botched drone strike
The United States has pledged to make undisclosed “ex gratia condolence payments” to the families of 10 Afghan civilians — including seven children — who were killed in a mistaken drone strike in August, as American troops were exiting the country, the Pentagon said in a statement late Friday.
The statement follows a meeting Thursday between U.S. officials and the head of a California-based charity that employed Zamarai Ahmadi, the Afghan man targeted and killed in the drone strike on Aug. 29.
Ahmadi, a father of four, was an aid worker with the U.S. nonprofit organization, which was working to alleviate malnutrition in Afghanistan. He had just returned home to his family compound in a neighborhood west of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport when a Hellfire missile strike was conducted.
U.S. military officials said they had tracked Ahmadi’s white Toyota sedan for hours after the vehicle left what U.S. officials thought was an Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) safe house. The Pentagon later issued a mea culpa and said the strike was a result of a chain of miscalculations by U.S. commanders, who wrongly thought the aid worker was carrying explosives in his car, they said.
Thursday’s virtual meeting took place between Colin Kahl, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, and Steven Kwon, the founder and president of Nutrition & Education International, the charity that employed Ahmadi, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in the statement Friday.
“Dr. Kahl noted that the strike was a tragic mistake and that Mr. Zemari Ahmadi and others who were killed were innocent victims, who bore no blame and were not affiliated with ISIS-K or threats to U.S. forces,” Kirby said. (The Pentagon and The Washington Post use different spellings of Ahmadi’s first name.)
Kahl also reiterated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s “commitment to the families, including offering ex gratia condolence payments,” the statement added.
During the meeting, Kwon paid tribute to Ahmadi’s work over many years “providing care and lifesaving assistance” to Afghans, according to Kirby’s statement.
The Defense Department had initially defended the drone operation as a “righteous strike.” However, in September, Austin said in a statement: “We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced.”
Austin apologized for Ahmadi’s death, describing him and others as innocent victims and pledged “to learn from this horrible mistake.”