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U.S. plans to make condolence payments to families of Afghans killed in mistaken drone strike

Afghans inspect damage to a family home in Kabul on Aug. 29, after a U.S. drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, in the final hours of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. (Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi/AP)
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The United States has pledged to make undisclosed “ex gratia condolence payments” to the families of 10 Afghan civilians — including seven children — who were killed in a mistaken drone strike in August, as American troops were exiting the country, the Pentagon said in a statement late Friday.

The statement follows a meeting Thursday between U.S. officials and the head of a California-based charity that employed Zamarai Ahmadi, the Afghan man targeted and killed in the drone strike on Aug. 29.

Ahmadi, a father of four, was an aid worker with the U.S. nonprofit organization, which was working to alleviate malnutrition in Afghanistan. He had just returned home to his family compound in a neighborhood west of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport when a Hellfire missile strike was conducted.

U.S. military officials said they had tracked Ahmadi’s white Toyota sedan for hours after the vehicle left what U.S. officials thought was an Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) safe house. The Pentagon later issued a mea culpa and said the strike was a result of a chain of miscalculations by U.S. commanders, who wrongly thought the aid worker was carrying explosives in his car, they said.

Surveillance video from the compound where Zamarai Ahmadi worked in Kabul shows some of his final movements the day he was killed by a U.S. drone strike. (Video: Nutrition and Education International)

Thursday’s virtual meeting took place between Colin Kahl, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, and Steven Kwon, the founder and president of Nutrition & Education International, the charity that employed Ahmadi, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in the statement Friday.

“Dr. Kahl noted that the strike was a tragic mistake and that Mr. Zemari Ahmadi and others who were killed were innocent victims, who bore no blame and were not affiliated with ISIS-K or threats to U.S. forces,” Kirby said. (The Pentagon and The Washington Post use different spellings of Ahmadi’s first name.)

Kahl also reiterated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s “commitment to the families, including offering ex gratia condolence payments,” the statement added.

During the meeting, Kwon paid tribute to Ahmadi’s work over many years “providing care and lifesaving assistance” to Afghans, according to Kirby’s statement.

Examining a ‘righteous’ strike

The Defense Department had initially defended the drone operation as a “righteous strike.” However, in September, Austin said in a statement: “We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced.”

Austin apologized for Ahmadi’s death, describing him and others as innocent victims and pledged “to learn from this horrible mistake.”

Last month, members of the Ahmadi family told The Post that the attack had upended their lives, shattered their home and cast a dangerous spotlight on them as having worked with foreigners, in addition to giving rise to false accusations that the family had ties to the Islamic State.

“We are happy they have acknowledged their mistake and confirmed that they killed innocent people,” Zamarai Ahmadi’s 32-year-old brother Emal told The Post.

The drone strike on the compound that Ahmadi shared with his three brothers and their families killed Zamarai and three of his sons — Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 11. Three children of another brother — Arween, 7, Binyamin, 6, and Ayat, 2 — also died, along with Emal’s 3-year-old daughter, Malika, and his nephew Nasser, 30. A cousin’s infant daughter, Sumaiya, also was killed.

Zamarai Ahmadi was his family’s main breadwinner with his $500 monthly salary, and the family was seeking compensation from the U.S. government and help in leaving Afghanistan for resettlement in the United States or another safe country, Emal said.

“We want peace and comfort for our remaining years. Everyone makes mistakes. The Americans cannot bring back our loved ones, but they can take us out of here,” Samim Ahmadi, 24, the stepson of Zamarai Ahmadi, said last month.

Kirby’s statement Friday confirmed that the Department of Defense was working with the State Department “in support of Mr. Ahmadi’s family members who are interested in relocation to the United States.”

The August drone strike came days after a suicide attack at Kabul airport claimed the lives of at least 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members. It also followed days of chaos in Kabul as thousands of Afghans tried to flee through the airport amid a Taliban takeover of the country and a hurried withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Afghan family ravaged by U.S. drone strike mistake wants headstones for the dead

The security situation in Afghanistan under the Taliban remains precarious.

On Friday, suicide bombers attacked a Shiite mosque in the southern city of Kandahar during the main weekly prayers, killing at least 50 people. The Islamic State said it carried out the attack. The group also claimed a similar attack on a mosque in Kunduz last week.

The frequency of attacks has deepened concerns that in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, other militant groups are growing in strength and finding a haven for their activities around the country. The deadly violence also has fueled skepticism about the Taliban’s ability to maintain security across the vast country.

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