KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A survivor of an errant U.S. drone strike that killed 10 members of his family demanded Saturday that those responsible be punished and said Washington's apology was not enough.
The family also seeks financial compensation and relocation to the United States or another country deemed safe, said Emal Ahmadi, whose 3-year-old daughter Malika was among those killed in the Aug. 29 strike.
On that day, a U.S. hellfire missile struck the car that Ahmadi's brother Zemerai had just pulled into the driveway of the Ahmadi family compound as children ran to greet him. In all, 10 members of the family, including seven children, were killed in the strike.
On Friday, U.S. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, called the strike a “tragic mistake” and said that innocent civilians were indeed killed in the attack.
The U.S. military initially defended the strike, saying it had targeted an Islamic State group's “facilitator" and disrupted the militants' ability to carry out attacks during the chaotic final stage of the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan late last month.
Discrepancies between the military's portrayal of the strike and findings on the ground quickly emerged. The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a longtime employee at a U.S. humanitarian organization. There were no signs of a large secondary blast, despite the Pentagon's assertion that the vehicle contained explosives.
The drone strike followed a devastating suicide bombing by IS — a rival of the Taliban — that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. military personnel at one of the gates to the Kabul airport in late August. At that time, large numbers of Afghans, desperate to flee the Taliban, had crowded the airport gates in hopes of getting on to evacuation flights.
McKenzie apologized for the error and said the United States is considering making reparation payments to the family of the victims.
Emal Ahmadi told the AP on Saturday that he wants the U.S. to investigate who fired the drone and punish those responsible.
“That is not enough for us to say sorry,” said Ahmadi who heard of the U.S. apology from friends in America. “The U.S.A. should find the person who did this."
Ahmadi said he was relieved that an apology was offered and the family members he lost were recognized as innocent victims, but that this won't bring them back. He said that he was frustrated that the family never received a call from U.S. officials, despite repeated requests.
He looked exhausted as he sat in front of the charred ruins of his brother's car.
In the days before the Pentagon's apology, accounts from the family, documents from colleagues seen by the AP and the scene at the family home — where Zemerai’s car was struck by the missile — all sharply contradicted the accounts by the U.S. military.
Instead, they painted the picture of a family that had worked for Americans and were trying to gain visas to the U.S., fearing for their lives under the Taliban.
Zemerai Ahmadi was the family's breadwinner and had looked after his three brothers, including Emal, and their children.
“Now I am then one who is responsible for all my family and I am jobless,” said Emal Ahmadi. The situation “is not good,” said Ahmadi of life under the Taliban.
International aid groups and the United Nations have warned of a looming humanitarian crisis that could drive most Afghans below the poverty level.
McKenzie said the decision to strike a white Toyota Corolla sedan, after having tracked it for about eight hours, was made in an “earnest belief” — based on a standard of “reasonable certainty” — that it posed an imminent threat to American forces at the Kabul airport. The car was believed to have been carrying explosives in its trunk, he said.
But Ahmadi wondered how the family's home could have been mistaken for an Islamic State hideout.
“The U.S.A. can see from everywhere," he said of U.S. drone capabilities. “They can see that there were innocent children near the car and in the car. Whoever did this should be punished.”
“It isn't right,” he added.