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There is a lot of unfinished business following last year’s messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Taliban were taking over, including the fallout from a drone strike there that went horribly wrong.
Three days after the Islamic State suicide bomb attack at Kabul Airport, which left 13 U.S. service members and many more Afghan civilians killed, the military thought they were on to another ISIS terrorist. All day on Aug. 29, 2021, they tracked a car making what appeared to be suspicious stops across Kabul. Late in the day, they let loose a Hellfire missile from a Reaper drone, obliterating the car, its surroundings and those at scene.
Three days later, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley announced: “The procedures were correctly followed, and it was a righteous strike.”
People gather around the incinerated husk of a vehicle that was destroyed by a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 29, 2021. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)
Except that the U.S. was wrong. It turned out, instead of a terrorist, 10 civilians were killed in the twisted metal and rubble. A little more than two weeks later, the commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Kenneth MacKenzie, went public with this climb-down: “It was a mistake and I offer my sincere apology.”
“If you’re working in real time and you’re going after a moving target,” Victoria Coates of the Heritage Foundation told Fox News, “it is painfully easy to make a mistake.”
The strike killed 43-year-old Afghan civilian Zemari Ahmadi, along with seven children — including three toddlers — and two other adults.
Ahmadi was actually a key staffer for U.S.-based aid group Nutrition and Education International, helping to bring food to the desperate people of Afghanistan. The founder and CEO of the organization told Fox News in a statement: “Zemari was a proud father who spoke constantly about building a better future for his seven children. Nothing can bring him, his three sons, or six nieces and nephews back.”
Afghans inspect damage at the Ahmadi family house after a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi, File)
Just to underscore the rippling dangers of the strike, 144 people, including extended family members and workers for the charity, were deemed at risk from the now-ruling Taliban, Islamic State and others. The U.S. agreed to resettle them. Condolence payments were also promised.
But only 11 have made it the U.S. so far, dozens are still in limbo in third countries, and 32 remain stuck in Afghanistan, exposed to dangers there. Those payouts have been put on hold until everyone is safe.
“We were very grateful to see the U.S. take responsibility for what it’s done and agreed to do this,” said Brett Max Kaufman, lawyer for the ACLU representing the family, “but we’re a year out and it hasn’t. The job is not done.”
The Pentagon told Fox News in a statement that it and other U.S. agencies “… continue to take steps to respond to the August 29, 2021 airstrike in Kabul.”
While no individuals were reprimanded for their role in the tragedy, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last week unveiled a new program said to be aimed at “mitigating” civilian deaths in attacks like these.
As for the Ahmadi family, their friends and associates, one year after the loss, they continue to grieve.
Greg Palkot currently serves as a London-based senior foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1998 as a correspondent. Follow him on [email protected].