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U.S. pledges to pay relatives of innocent Afghans killed in drone strike

·2 min read
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- OCTOBER 2, 2021: Emal Ahmadi surveys the damage to his family home that was damaged when a U.S. military drone strike targeted a vehicle in the compound that killed 10 of his family members, including his big brother, Zemari Ahmadi, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. As an aid worker for a California-based charity, the 40-year-old Zemari was also the familyOs breadwinner. When he was killed by mistake along with nine other family members in a U.S. drone strike targeted for terrorists, Emal took some solace that American officials said they were considering paying compensation. But six weeks after the incident, Emal says he has yet to be contacted by the U.S. government to apologize or to offer help. The jobless father of two whose 3-year-old daughter Malika was killed in the blast said heOs struggling to provide for an extended family of 15. OWhy are they not contacting us? Why are they not reaching out to us? We lost 10 members of our family. ItOs very difficult for me, for our family, for all of us,O said Emal, 32, standing in front of the charred remains of a car in the family compound near Kabul that the U.S. military mistook for a vehicle used by the Afghan-based offshoot of Islamic State, known as ISIS in Khorasan, or ISIS-K. OIOm so angry, IOm so sad,O added Emal, who is also requesting the U.S. help his family relocate to safety. (MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES)
Emal Ahmadi surveys the damage to his family home after a U.S. military drone strike targeting a vehicle in the compound killed 10 of his family members. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. Defense Department said Friday that it was working to provide condolence payments to relatives of 10 innocent Afghans killed in a mistaken drone strike and to help relocate some of them to the United States.

The payments were discussed in a virtual meeting Thursday between Dr. Colin Kahl, undersecretary of Defense for policy, and Steven Kwon, founder and president of the nonprofit group Nutrition & Education International. The Pasadena charity had employed Zemari Ahmadi, who was mistaken for a terrorist and killed in the Aug. 29 strike on the family compound.

In an earlier interview and video published this week, Ahmadi's brother Emal Ahmadi told The Times he was still awaiting an apology and compensation from the U.S. weeks after the Pentagon admitted the error and said it would explore ex gratia payment for the family. Saturday, Emal Ahmadi said he had still not heard from the U.S. He was informed of the meeting between Kahl and Kwon by Nutrition & Education International.

"I feel very glad to hear this," said Ahmadi, who believes his family was under threat by the Taliban because of his brother's work with an American nonprofit. "I have no words. We are always in danger since the Taliban took rule of the country."

The military launched the strike believing Zemari Ahmadi posed an imminent threat to U.S. forces involved in evacuations at the airport in Kabul as the Taliban was taking control of the Afghan capital. He was believed to be a member of an offshoot group known as Islamic State in Khorasan, or ISIS-K. The attack came in the final days of the United States' two-decade failed attempt to replace the Taliban with a stable Western-backed government.

In a statement, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Khal reiterated with Kwon that the strike was a "tragic mistake" and that Zemari Ahmadi and the other victims, including seven children, "were innocent victims who bore no blame and were not affiliated with ISIS-K or threats to U.S. forces."

Kirby said the Pentagon was working with the State Department to help relocate the family to the U.S.

Emal Ahmadi said he was confident the U.S. would honor its pledge.

"America is a superpower, therefore we believe in them," he said. "Whatever America says, they must act accordingly, and I believe that they are going to pay and relocate us."

Times staff writers Pierson reported from Singapore and Yam from Paris. Staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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