US vows to pay relatives of Afghans killed in drone strike
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department said Friday that it is committed to offering condolence payments to relatives of the 10 people who were killed in an errant U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the Defense Department was also working with the State Department to help surviving family members relocate to the United States.
Kirby said the matter arose in a meeting Thursday between Dr. Colin Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy, and Dr. Steven Kwon, founder and president of the nonprofit group Nutrition & Education International.
“Dr. Kahl reiterated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s commitment to the families, including offering ex gratia condolence payments,” Kirby said. He did not say how much money would be offered.
On Aug. 29, a U.S. Hellfire missile struck a car driven by Zemerai Ahmadi, who had just pulled into the driveway of the Ahmadi family compound. In all, 10 members of the family, including seven children, were killed in the strike.
Weeks later, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, called the strike a “tragic mistake” and said innocent civilians were indeed killed in the attack.
During the meeting Thursday, Kwon told Kahl that Ahmadi had work with NEI for many years, “providing care and lifesaving assistance for people facing high mortality rates in Afghanistan,” according to Kirby.
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.
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 an Islamic State offshoot that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. military personnel at one of the gates to the Kabul airport in late August.
Last month, McKenzie said the United States was considering making reparation payments to the family of the drone strike victims.