Military Investigation Reveals How the U.S. Botched a Drone Strike in Kabul

[explosion] In one of the final acts of the 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States fired a missile from a drone at a car in Kabul. It was parked in the yard of a house and the explosion killed 10 people, including Zemari Ahmadi, 43, and seven children, according to his family. The Pentagon claims that Ahmadi was a supporter of the Islamic State and that his vehicle was filled with explosives, posing an imminent threat to US troops defending the airport evacuation. Kabul. “The procedures were followed correctly, and it was a justifiable strike.” What the military doesn’t seem to know is that Ahmadi was a longtime aid worker, who colleagues and family members say spent hours before his death running office errands, and ending up a his day by stopping by the house. Soon after, his Toyota was hit by a 20-pound Hellfire missile. It is understood that the suspicious actions of a terrorist might just be an ordinary day in his life. And it’s possible that what the military saw Ahmadi loading into his car were buckets of water he brought home for his family, not explosives. Using never-before-seen security camera footage of Ahmadi, interviews with his family, colleagues, and witnesses, we’ll piece together his movements for the first time in a few days. hours before he was killed. Zemari Ahmadi is a trained electrical engineer. For 14 years, he worked for the International Education and Nutrition office in Kabul. “NEI has established a total of 11 soybean processing plants in Afghanistan.” It’s a California-based NGO that fights malnutrition. On most days, he drives one of the company’s white corolla Toyotas, shuttles his colleagues to work, and distributes NGO food to Afghans displaced by the war. painting. Just three days before Ahmadi was killed, 13 American soldiers and more than 170 Afghan civilians were killed in an Islamic State suicide attack at the airport. The military has given lower-ranking commanders the authority to order air strikes earlier in the evacuation process, and they are bracing themselves for what they fear is another imminent attack. To reconstruct Ahmadi’s movements on August 29, in the hours before he was killed, The Times stitched together security camera footage from his office, with interviews with more than a dozen coins. Ahmadi’s career and family members. Ahmadi appeared to have left the house around 9am. Then he picked up a colleague and his boss’s laptop near his house. Around this time, the US military claimed it observed a white sedan leaving an alleged Islamic State safe house, about 5 kilometers northwest of the airport. That’s why the US military said it tracked down Ahmadi’s Corolla that day. They also said they had blocked communications from the safe house, directing the vehicle to stop at certain points. But every colleague who was with Ahmadi that day said what the military saw as a series of suspicious moves was just an ordinary day in his life. After Ahmadi picked up another colleague, the three stopped for breakfast and at 9:35 a.m. they arrived at the NGO’s office. Later that morning, Ahmadi drove some of his colleagues to a Taliban-occupied police station to ask for permission to distribute food in the future at a new displacement camp. Around 2 p.m., Ahmadi and his colleagues returned to the office. The security camera footage we obtained from the office is important to understanding what happens next. The camera timestamp was off, but we went to the office and verified the time. We also matched an exact scene in the footage with a timestamped satellite image to confirm that the scene was accurate. At 2:35 p.m., Ahmadi pulled out a hose, then he and a colleague filled empty containers with water. Early that morning, we saw Ahmadi bringing these empty plastic boxes to the office. His family said his neighborhood lacked water so he often brought water home from the office. At about 3:38 p.m., a colleague moved Ahmadi’s car further into the driveway. A senior US official told us that at roughly the same time, the military saw Ahmadi’s vehicle pull up to an unidentified compound 8 to 12 kilometers southwest of the airport. That overlaps with the location of the NGO’s office, which we believe is what the military calls an unidentified compound. When the workday ended, an employee turned off the generator in the office and the camera feed ended. We don’t have footage of those moments after that. But at this point, the military said its drone source showed four men tiptoeing with wrapped packages into the vehicle. Officials said they could not know what was inside them. This footage from earlier in the day shows what the men said they were carrying – a laptop of theirs encased in a plastic shopping bag. Ahmadi’s colleagues said the only thing in the trunk was a water tank. Ahmadi dropped them off one by one, then drove home to a densely populated area near the airport. He backed into the small courtyard of the house. According to his brother, children surrounded the vehicle. A US official said the military was concerned the vehicle would leave again and enter a busier street or reach the airport itself. The drone operators, who hadn’t watched Ahmadi’s home all day, quickly swept across the yard and said they only saw an adult man talking to the driver and no have children. They decided it was time to attack. A US official told us that the attack on Ahmadi’s vehicle was carried out by an MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired a single Hellfire missile with a 20-pound warhead. We found remnants of rockets, which experts say resembled Hellfires, at the scene of the attack. In the days following the attack, the Pentagon repeatedly claimed that the missile strike caused other explosions and that these explosions were capable of killing civilians in the yard. “Significant secondary explosions from the target vehicle indicate the presence of a significant amount of explosives.” “Because there were secondary explosions, it can be reasonably concluded that there were explosives in that vehicle.” But a senior military official later told us that it was only possible that the explosives in the vehicle caused another explosion. We have collected photos and videos of the scene taken by journalists and have visited the yard several times. We shared evidence with three weapons experts, who said the damage was consistent with the impact of the Hellfire missile. They pointed to the small crater beneath Ahmadi’s vehicle and the damage caused by the metal shrapnel of the warhead. This plastic was melted by a car fire caused by a missile attack. All three experts also pointed to what was missing: any evidence of the large secondary explosions the Pentagon described. None of the walls collapsed or exploded, not even the side of the truck with the alleged explosives. There is no indication that the second vehicle parked in the yard overturned due to a large explosion. No vegetation is destroyed. All of this matches what witnesses told us, that a single rocket exploded and caused a large fire. There was one final detail visible in the wreckage: containers that were identical to the ones Ahmadi and his colleagues had filled with water and stuffed in the trunk before heading home. Although the military said the drone fleet monitored the vehicle for eight hours that day, a senior official also said it was not aware of any water containers. The Pentagon did not provide The Times with evidence of explosives in Ahmadi’s vehicle or share what it said was intelligence linking him to Islamic State. But the morning after the US killed Ahmadi, the Islamic State launched a missile at the airport from a residential area Ahmadi had driven past the day before. And the vehicle they used… …was a white Toyota. The US military has so far admitted only three civilians were killed in its attack, and says an investigation is underway. They also admitted to knowing nothing about Ahmadi before killing him, leading them to understand that the job of an engineer at a US NGO is the work of an Islamic State terrorist. Four days before Ahmadi was killed, his employer applied for his family’s refugee resettlement in the United States. At the time of the strike, they were still awaiting approval. Looking to the United States for protection, they instead became one of the last victims in America’s longest war. “Hi, I’m Evan, one of the producers of this story. Our latest visual investigation began with social media reports of an explosion near Kabul airport. It turned out to be an American drone strike, one of the last acts in the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Our goal is to fill in the gaps in the Pentagon’s version of events. We analyzed exclusive security camera footage and combined it with eyewitness accounts and expert analysis of the aftermath of the strike. You can see more of our surveys by subscribing to our newsletter.”


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