Afghanistan victims: relatives of family killed in missile strike in Kabul seek resettlement in America
He misses playing with his younger sister Malika, he says. She cries a lot, wondering when she is coming home.
The tragic answer is that she will not come back.
During a hearing on the withdrawal from Afghanistan on Wednesday, General Frank McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), said the military knew civilians had been affected within four or five hours of the strike. – and they knew they had hit the wrong target within days.
The testimony appears to contradict information provided to CNN nearly two weeks after the strike by a US military official who said the US had “reasonable certainty” that at least one ISIS-K facilitator had been kill.
McKenzie had previously offered his “deep condolences” and said the United States was exploring the possibility of ex gratia payments.
But a month after the strike, the Ahmadi family say they have yet to receive a word from the US military, let alone any compensation.
The family struggles to pay for food, clothes and rent. They fear reprisals on their relations with the United States. And they are desperate to get out of the country safely.
“(The United States) has just shown the world that they have apologized to us and fulfilled their responsibility,” said Zamarai Ahmadi’s sister, Rohina. “But they don’t know what my family is going through, what we were and what we are now.”
A ruined family home
A month after the strike, scar marks mark the walls of the Ahmadi family home, alluding to the strength of the Hellfire missile. The twisted metallic remains of Zamarai Ahmadi’s Toyota Corolla still lie in the yard where he – and he – was beaten up.
But the house is empty – the family has moved to a safer place in the hills of Kabul.
The strike made them vulnerable in more ways than one. Family ties to the United States through Zamarai Ahmadi’s work are now widely known, and his death has left his wife and daughter without a husband and father in a country where women cannot leave home without male companions. .
Zamarai Ahmadi was the head of the family who all lived together in the same compound, says his younger brother Emal Ahmadi. He was the breadwinner, made key decisions and was like a father to him since their father died when Emal was only 8 years old.
“Right now, again, I think I lost my father again,” Emal Ahmadi said. “We don’t know what to plan and what to do, how to move forward, without a future we continue to live.”
The family say they still haven’t heard from the United States beyond public statements.
“They recognized their mistake, but they cannot give us our family back,” Rohina Ahmadi said. “A house full of life has been turned into a cemetery.”
Even before the strike, the family were asking for visas to travel to the United States and seek safety. Now it is even more urgent.
The California-based Nutrition and Education International (NEI) where Zamarai Ahmadi worked supported the family as best they could, including helping them rent another house, according to Zamarai Ahmadi’s boss, who asked to be known only by his middle name. , Walid, out of fear for his safety.
“It’s going to be so difficult for his wife and daughter to survive in Afghanistan,” said Sonia Kwon, senior advisor at NEI. “It’s a very scary situation for them.
“They want a fresh start. I think they deserve one,” she said. “I just hope the US government has the compassion to grant what it wants.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Wednesday’s hearing that the United States will continue to work through State Department channels to engage the family.
“If they wish to leave, we will certainly do our utmost to facilitate their exit,” he said.
CENTCOM, the geographic command that oversees military operations in the area, declined to comment when asked if it had contacted Zamarai Ahmadi’s family, if he was working on the family’s resettlement and protection. while they were still in Afghanistan.
An ISIS-K refuge?
Nearby, in a northern Kabul suburb, colorful children’s paintings and a whiteboard with homework hang on the walls of a modest house.
This is the house that NEI country director Walid grew up in – the house he now shares with his three sisters, parents, wife and three daughters, two of whom happily played around him, during the CNN visit.
It’s a family of doctors and teachers, he says, people who have helped their community.
But in late August, the US military estimated the family home they had lived in for 40 years as an ISIS-K shelter.
According to a briefing earlier this month from a U.S. official with knowledge of the case, gossip following a deadly terrorist attack on the airport on August 26 led them to a so-called safe haven, which ‘they watched for 36 hours.
There had “not been a lot of activity” around the house until a Toyota Corolla rolled out of the house on the morning of August 29 – the car that would eventually be Zamarai Ahmadi’s.
The United States followed Zamarai Ahmadi’s car for eight hours before launching the deadly strike shortly after the car pulled into his family compound.
But Walid says the claim of an ISIS-K connection is “absolutely wrong”.
“We never have been, we are not and we will not be those kinds of people,” he said. “I expect the US government to remove this label from our home. It is an assault on our dignity… and it definitely puts us in danger.”
And Walid says that on the day of the strike, he left home early to go to the office, before asking Zamarai Ahmadi to pick up a laptop he accidentally left at home. US agents saw Zamarai Ahmadi enter the house, and from that point on they followed his movements.
The car’s route and frequent stops that day seemed to confirm US suspicions that it was planning an attack on Kabul airport.
They saw Ahmadi and other men loading heavy containers into cars, which the United States said contained explosives.
They were later shown to contain water that Ahmadi would take home to his family compound.
The day after a missile strike, ISIS-K attempted to fire rockets at Kabul airport.
Walid says the rockets came from a car parked around the corner from his house, not his house as the United States suggested.
Walid has an American green card and desperately wants to be resettled there. As Kwon points out, as part of the green card process, the United States has Walid’s address.
“Why would you, why would you give a green card to someone you think is ISIS?” Kwon asked. “It’s getting more and more absurd… it’s more than a mistake.”
Walid fears that the same thing that happened to his friend Zamarai Ahmadi could happen to him.
“It’s really a nightmare for me. Some nights I jump out of bed because it’s called a shelter – it could be targeted too.”
What happens next?
Two investigations into what happened on August 29 are underway, one led by the Secretary of the Air Force and the other by the Inspector General of the Ministry of Defense.
These investigations will examine what went wrong, whether someone should be held accountable and whether procedures regarding strike targeting need to be changed in the future.
But experts warn that these kinds of tragic strikes have already happened.
Larry Lewis, a civilian casualty reduction expert at the nonprofit research and analysis organization CNA, said the issue of misidentified targets was a “pervasive problem.”
“When you look at the characteristics of this incident, it is a tragic mistake,” he said. “But the characteristics of this incident are like dozens of other cases that I have seen.”
An international explosives engineer, who asked not to be named for professional reasons and who reviewed CNN video of the scene, said: “From the evidence presented, it appears that someone in the chain of command has lied. “
CENTCOM declined to comment on the accusation of lying to the public. He also did not respond to accusations that civilian deaths were a pervasive problem and that there was little transparency.
After weeks of trying to contact the Department of Defense, NEI’s Kwon said Secretary Austin’s office finally responded in a letter on Wednesday. The letter, seen by CNN, said Zamarai Admadi’s actions that day were “completely harmless.”
But Kwon is surprised that the United States says it has not been able to make contact with people on the ground, given that NEI has supported the family and made an effort to put its staff safe.
“If they were really sincere, if you really mean what you’re saying you’re sorry you killed his whole family… so why didn’t you speak up?” she wondered.
“What’s an excuse without proper action?” She asked herself. “These are just words.”
Abdul Basir Bina contributed reporting from Istanbul.