The Ahmadi family went into the weekend full of hope. And with a wedding in just a few days and the belief that they might make it on an evacuation flight from Kabul to the United States, there was much reason to be optimistic.
But on Sunday, their hopes were turned into despair after 10 members of their extended family, including seven children, were killed in a U.S. drone attack in Kabul, relatives told NBC News.
“There were 10 civilians,” said Emal Ahmadi, who says his toddler Malika was among those killed, told NBC News on a phone call. “My daughter … she was 2 years old,” he said.
That day, Ahmadi’s cousin Zemari Ahmadi, 38, had just come home from work and his 13-year-old son Farzad, the youngest of three children, rushed to meet him. (According to other reports, Farzad was 12 years old, but both Ahmadi and another relative told NBC News that he was 13 years old.)
Farzad, who had just learned to drive, wanted to park his father’s car, a wish Zemari was happy to grant when other family members gathered.
Sunday’s drone strike began after the Islamic State of Khorasan extremist group took responsibility for a suicide attack outside Kabul airport last week that killed 13 US military personnel and more than 110 Afghans.
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The explosion, which occurred during the United States’ chaotic exit from its 20-year engagement in Afghanistan, will put pressure on President Joe Biden as his administration seeks to deal “over the horizon” with terrorist threats from outside Afghanistan. goes on strike and calls for retaliation for last Thursday’s bombing.
“We only demonstrated this ability last week. We met ISIS-K remotely, days after they murdered 13 of our soldiers and dozen of innocent Afghans,” the president said during a speech at the White House on Tuesday he defended his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
In a briefing Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Washington was “unable to deny reports” that its drone strike on its ISIS-K target had caused civilian casualties and that the US was investigating.
Kirby added that the US takes such reports “very, very seriously”.
“Reports on civilian casualties”
Malika and two other young children were the youngest family members killed, along with Ahmadi’s nephews Arwin, 7, and Benyamin, 6, and Zemari’s two other sons, Zamir, 20 and Faisal, 16, Ahmadi said.
Zemari was a technical engineer with Nutrition and Education International, a Pasadena, California-based nonprofit that deals with malnutrition.
Just a day before his death, he helped prepare soy-based meals in Kabul refugee camps and deliver them to women and children, NEI president Steven Kwon told NBC News in an email.
“We are all very sad and shocked by his sudden death,” said Kwon. “He was very respected by his colleagues and was compassionate to the poor and needy.”
Abdul Naser Ahmadi, a six-year-old colleague and friend of Zemari, said he was devastated and described Ahmadi as “a good man with good ethics”.
Ahmad Naser, a former Afghan army officer and US military contractor, was also killed in the explosion, Ramin Yousuf, a cousin of Zemari and Ahmadi, told NBC News on Tuesday.
Naser was only a few days away from marrying Samia Ahmadi, 21, said Zemari’s daughter Yousuf. He said the family had planned to hold a small wedding this week and Naser hoped he could take part of the family on an evacuation flight to the United States.
But instead of a wedding or a new chapter in the US, the family held a funeral on Monday.
“They were all buried,” said Yousuf, 31 years old. “We’re all ruined. The family is gone.”
Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said in a previous statement that the US is aware of “reports of civilian casualties.”
He said there had been “significant and powerful follow-up explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle” Zemari and Farzad were in, suggesting that there was “a large amount of explosive material inside, potentially causing additional casualties Has”.
Ahmadi says he believes the US should help his family, especially after they lost so much.
“I want the US to support us,” he said in an email. “My nieces have been kidnapped and tortured. They have to compensate us because we lost our family, we lost our house and our property.”
In a telephone interview on Monday, Daniel Balson, Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, said he was not surprised by the tragedy for Ahmadi’s family.
Civilian casualties in US drone attacks have long been a grim reality of the decades-long US war in Afghanistan.
Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the US government has carried out drone strikes in a number of countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Under the Obama administration, the use of targeted drone strikes against al-Qaeda and the terrorist group Islamic State has expanded dramatically, while new rules have been introduced to promote accountability and protect civilian lives.
The Trump administration saw some of these rules abandoned to cut red tape that stood in the way of certain strikes.
Balson said he believed the Biden administration should have focused on its evacuation efforts rather than launching drone strikes in Afghanistan.