U.S. pledges to pay relatives of Afghan civilians killed in drone strike

A man puts his palm to his forehead while standing near a window
Emal Ahmadi surveys the damage to his family home after a U.S. military drone strike targeting a vehicle in the compound killed 10 of his family members on Aug. 29.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. Defense Department said Friday it was working to provide condolence payments to relatives of 10 Afghan civilians — seven of them children — mistakenly killed in a drone strike and to help relocate some of them to the United States.

The payments were discussed in a virtual meeting Thursday between Colin Kahl, undersecretary of Defense for policy, and Steven Kwon, founder and president of the nonprofit group Nutrition & Education International. The Pasadena charity had employed Zemari Ahmadi, who was among those killed in the Aug. 29 strike on the family compound. The U.S. was trying to target terrorists.

In an interview and video published in October, Ahmadi’s brother Emal told The Times he was still awaiting an apology and compensation from the U.S. weeks after the Pentagon admitted the error and said it would explore ex gratia payment for the family.

Emal Ahmadi said Friday he had still not heard from the U.S. He was informed of the meeting between Kahl and Kwon by Nutrition & Education International.

People gather around a charred vehicle
On Aug. 30, relatives and neighbors of the Ahmadi family gather around the incinerated husk of a vehicle targeted the day before in a U.S. drone strike, killing seven children and three adults.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

“I feel very glad to hear this,” said Ahmadi, who believes his family is under threat by the Taliban because of his late brother’s work with an American nonprofit group. “I have no words. We are always in danger since the Taliban took rule of the country.”

The military launched the drone strike on a vehicle believing someone inside posed an imminent threat to U.S. forces involved in evacuations at the airport in Kabul as the Taliban was taking control of the Afghan capital.

The U.S. was targeting a group known as Islamic State in Khorasan, or ISIS-K, which was responsible for a suicide bombing near the airport that killed scores of civilians and 13 U.S. service members.

The bombing and drone strike came in the final days of the United States’ two-decade occupation of Afghanistan.

In a statement Friday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Khal and Kwon reiterated that the strike was a “tragic mistake” and that Zemari Ahmadi and the others killed “were innocent victims who bore no blame and were not affiliated with ISIS-K or threats to U.S. forces.”

Caskets are carried towards a gravesite
Caskets are carried toward a gravesite at a funeral Aug. 30 for members of the Ahmadi family.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Kirby said the Pentagon was working with the State Department to help relocate the family to the U.S.

Emal Ahmadi said he was confident the U.S. would honor its pledge.

“America is a superpower, therefore we believe in them,” he said. “Whatever America says, they must act accordingly, and I believe that they are going to pay and relocate us.”

Times staff writers Pierson reported from Singapore and Yam from Paris. Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this report.