US version of Kabul drone strike questioned

Published September 13, 2021
General view of a house destroyed after a rocket attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 29. — Reuters/File
General view of a house destroyed after a rocket attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 29. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: Two major US newspapers — The New York Times and The Washington Post — are questioning the US military claims that its Aug 29 drone strike in Kabul destroyed a car operated by an ISIS-K sympathiser.

Soon after the strike, the US Central Command claimed the car contained explosives destined for the Kabul airport. “Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material,” the statement claimed.

In a press conference on Sept 1, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley called it a “righteous strike” that correctly followed procedures.

In reports published this weekend, the Times and Post claimed that their investigations were unable to find evidence of any explosives in the car, which they said was driven by 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi, an engineer working for the US aid group Nutrition and Education International (NEI). Family members told the Times that Mr Ahmadi, who had applied for refugee resettlement in the United States, was carrying water to family members when the drone hit his car.

NYT, WP claim their investigations have not found evidence of any explosives in the car

The Times and Post also questioned military assertions of “secondary explosions” in the courtyard. Times reporters could find no evidence of a second explosion at the scene. Experts pointed to the lack of collapsed walls or destroyed vegetation. “It seriously questions the credibility of the intelligence or technology utilised to determine this was a legitimate target,” security consultant Chris Cobb-Smith told the Times.

Explosives experts told the Post that the damage was mostly caused by the Hellfire missile fired by the drone. If there was a secondary explosion, two experts said, it was likely caused by ignited fuel vapors.

Steven Kwon, president of California-based Nutrition and Education International, told the Post that the white sedan belonged to the organisation. After Mr Ahmadi met at the NEI compound to discuss an emergency food aid programme for displaced people, he spent the rest of the day running errands, Mr Kwon said.

He denied that NEI has any association with ISIS-K.

“We’re trying to help people,” he told the Post. “Why would we have explosives to kill people?”

The Times said that after reviewing video evidence and interviewing more than a dozen of the driver’s friends and family members in Kabul, it has doubts about the US version of events.

Times reporting has identified the driver as Zemari Ahmadi, a long time worker for a US aid group,” the report added. “The evidence suggests that his travels that day actually involved transporting colleagues to and from work. And an analysis of video feeds showed that what the military may have seen was Mr Ahmadi and a colleague loading canisters of water into his trunk to bring home to his family.”

The US previously admitted that there were three civilian casualties in the strike, but the Times reported that the actual number was 10. Seven of those individuals were children, including young family members of Mr Ahmadi who relatives said had run to the car to greet him when he got home moments before the strike.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2021

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