REPORT: Final US Drone Strike In Afghanistan Killed Aid Worker And Family, Not ISIS Fighters

Noorullah Shirzada/AFP via Getty Images

Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
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An American drone strike conducted in the final days of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan killed an Afghan aid worker and his family, not an ISIS target with a car bomb, according to an investigation by The New York Times.

The strike was launched Sunday, Aug. 29, less than 48 hours before the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan was complete. The Pentagon claimed that it killed at least one ISIS-K operative in a vehicle killed with explosives, who posed an imminent threat to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Days earlier, an ISIS-K suicide bomber detonated an explosive at the airport, ultimately killing 13 U.S. servicemembers and more than 170 Afghans. Military leaders were on high alert for the possibility of another attack as the U.S. completed its evacuation.

According to the NYT investigation, the strike did not kill an ISIS-K fighter. Instead, it killed 43-year-old aid worker Zemari Ahmadi and nine other civilians, including seven children.

Ahmadi had just arrived home, parking his car in his courtyard when his children approached the vehicle to welcome him, security footage obtained by the NYT showed. Eyewitnesses confirmed that a hellfire missile hit the vehicle and started a massive fire, resulting in the casualties.

The Pentagon had been tracking Ahmadi’s vehicle throughout the day, believing he had stopped in the area of an ISIS-K safehouse. Surveillance footage showed him and other men loading canisters and loose bags into his white Toyota.

Security video and eyewitness reports confirmed that Ahmadi had loaded containers filled with water into his car, and the loose bags were carrying laptops he and his colleagues used at work. Neighbors and family members said Ahmadi had been bringing home water due to a shortage in his neighborhood.

Ahmadi worked as an electrical engineer and distributed food for Nutrition and Education International (NEI), a U.S.-based NGO that fights malnutrition. Four days before he was killed, NEI applied for refugee admission to the United States for Ahmadi and his family. (RELATED: Pentagon Says Taliban Released ‘Thousands’ Of ISIS-K Prisoners Ahead Of Kabul Terrorist Attack)

According to the NYT investigation, drone operators hadn’t been watching Ahmadi’s home all day, and they reportedly said they only saw one other man at his vehicle when the strike was launched, and no children. Military officials apparently mistook Ahmadi’s behavior throughout the day, including the loading of the car and the multiple stops he made during his commute, for the activities of an ISIS-K terrorist.

In the aftermath of the strike, the Pentagon initially said it wasn’t aware of any civilian casualties before issuing a follow-up statement that it was investigating the situation. It said that a secondary explosion after the strike indicated that the vehicle had been filled with explosives, and they were confident an ISIS-K fighter was killed.

Forensic evidence compiled by the New York Times and reviewed by experts apparently showed zero signs of a secondary explosion at the site of the strike. Instead, the damage was consistent with eyewitness accounts of a single explosion from a missile and an ensuing fire.

Days before the drone strike that killed Ahmadi, the Biden administration carried out a drone strike that they claimed killed two ISIS-K leaders that helped facilitate the attack on the Kabul airport. The day after Ahmadi was killed, ISIS-K launched rocket attacks toward the airport from a location near one of Ahmadi’s stops on his commute. ISIS-K used a white Toyota in the attacks, the same type of car the U.S. destroyed with Ahmadi inside the day before.

U.S. officials reportedly had no information on who Ahmadi was before he was killed. The Pentagon says it is still investigating the incident.