A U.S. drone strike killed an aid worker in Afghanistan. Many of his family and colleagues are still stranded there

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Almost a year later, the U.S government is still working to rectify its last act in Afghanistan – an erroneous airstrike that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.  

A U.S. airstrike in the final days of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan intended for an ISIS-K terrorist instead killed the aid worker Zemari Ahmadi and members of his family. 

After initially calling it a “righteous strike” and claiming no civilians were killed, the Pentagon admitted its mistake and promised to resettle members of Ahmadi’s family and employees of the aid organization he worked for. 

Since then, the U.S. government has resettled 11 of the 144 individuals who warrant this type of assistance. according to Brett Max Kaufman, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing Ahmadi’s family members and colleagues. 

Thirty-two of the individuals remain in Afghanistan, where they await evacuation. 

Amal Ahmadi, 32, holds a picture of his slain brother Zemerai Ahmadi at the family house in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 13, 2021. Bernat Armangue/AP

“That some members of Zemari’s family have begun to pick up the pieces of their lives with a new start in America is undoubtedly good news. But the bottom line is that the government has not done enough, and many of our clients remain in danger,” Kaufman said in a statement. 

The individuals who are not in Afghanistan or in the U.S. are in other locations like Albania, Doha, and Kosovo going through processing for resettlement. 

The first of the 11 family members to arrive in the U.S. arrived in May and the most recent arrived in July. 

“The Department of Defense, in coordination with other U.S. Government departments and agencies continue to take steps to respond to the August 29, 2021 airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan,” acting Pentagon Press Secretary Todd Breasseale said in a statement.

“To protect the privacy of the family members, as well as to help protect their safety and security, we are not able to provide more information regarding these efforts at this time.”

The organizations representing Ahmadi’s family had stayed quiet as the U.S. government worked through the process but have now decided to speak out in anticipation of the one-year anniversary to let the public know there are still individuals in danger in Afghanistan. 

The strike that killed Ahmadi and members of his famiy was a result of intelligence the military received that suggested an ISIS-K terrorist who drove a white Toyota Corolla was planning an attack at the Kabul airport. Just three days before, an ISIS-K terrorist attack outside of the Abbey Gate at the airport killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 200 Afghan civilians.  

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. forces in the Middle East during the Afghanistan withdrawal, held a press conference weeks later admitting the strike was a tragic mistake. 

In October of 2021, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Colin Kahl held a virtual meeting with Dr. Steven Kwon, the founder and president of NEI, who employed Ahmadi. 

According to a readout provided at the time by Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, Kahl noted that the strike was a mistake and promised condolence payments in addition to supporting members of Ahmadi’s family who wanted to be resettled into the U.S. 

In a statement to CBS News on Tuesday, Kwon said, “After months of frustration and lack of progress, many of those affected have been evacuated out of Afghanistan. However, I remain increasingly scared for the people — including Zemari’s family members and our NEI colleagues — who are still stuck in Afghanistan without any certainty or timeline to get out.”

Kaufman, the ACLU attorney, said in an interview the priority is getting the remaining individuals out of Afghanistan and resettled then discussions will continue on condolence payments. 

Afghanistan: The New Reality

More More Eleanor Watson

CBS News reporter covering the Pentagon.

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