Afghan family rebuilds far from home after US drone strike

·3-min read

The damage inflicted by a United States drone that killed 10 members of Aimal Ahmadi's family in the Afghan capital can still be seen in the courtyard of his home a year after the strike.

The 32-year-old, whose daughter was among those killed, left Afghanistan with some of his family members, moving to a refugee camp in Qatar from where they now expect to be evacuated to the US for a future far from home.

"I don't wish that any human being would go through what we went through, it's terrible, unimaginable", Ahmadi told AFP from Qatar.

On August 29, 2021, Ahmadi's three-year-old daughter Malika, his brother Ezmarai, who had worked for an American charity, and several of his nephews and nieces were killed in the strike.

The 10 family members, including seven children, were near a family car when they were mistakenly targeted by a US drone.

The family were the last civilian deaths linked to US forces recorded in the chaotic days before American troops left Afghanistan on August 30 last year, allowing the Taliban to fully take control of the country.

A few days after the drone strike the Pentagon acknowledged that it had made a "mistake" in wrongly identifying the family's white Toyota as an Islamic State (IS) target.

The Pentagon did not punish the service members involved in the incident.

"There was not a strong enough case to be made for personal accountability," said Pentagon spokesman at that time, John Kirby.

The US administration is currently helping relocate members of the family, Ahmadi said.

The drone hit came three days after an IS suicide bomb attack at Kabul airport killed more than 150 people -- including 13 US troops -- significantly raising tensions in the last days of US withdrawal.

An estimated 188 civilians have been killed by US forces by mistake in Afghanistan since 2018, according to the American military.

- Compensation-

A year after the strike, the modest two-storey house on a narrow street in the Khwaja Bughra neighbourhood in the north of Kabul is now inhabited by only a dozen distant relatives.

Several other relatives of the victims fled the scene of the tragedy, which still bears the scars of the attack.

Blown out by the explosion, the windows have now been repaired, the walls of the courtyard rebuilt and others repainted.

But on the floor, tiles are still missing where the drone strike hit.

The family's second vehicle -– almost completely burned by the blast -– still lies in the middle of the yard under a tarp.

"We didn't want to get rid of it in memory of the victims and because it saved lives by protecting the women inside the house from the shrapnel," said Ahmadi's 20-year-old nephew, Nasratullah Malikzada, who is now in charge of maintaining the house.

As he passed a gate where portraits of the 10 victims have been hung, the young Afghan said the situation is "very sad".

"It is God's will, what has happened has happened, we can't go back. God will punish those responsible in the afterlife," he said.

Washington's announcement that it would pay the family compensation sparked interest in the family and among relatives, given the economic distress felt across the country.

Following the drone strike, Ahmadi lost his job working with foreign companies and one of his two other brothers was threatened by strangers who had heard about the expected compensation.

But to this day, the family has not received any money from the US and they have hired a lawyer to defend their interests, Ahmadi said.

The lawyer was not reachable for comment.

In an exhausted tone, Ahmadi said he is confident that the US government will compensate his family.

As soon as he completes the paperwork for his evacuation, he hopes to join his two brothers who are already in the US.

His ailing sister, who remains in Afghanistan and is also hoping to be evacuated, has left home for a safe place in Kabul.

"I hope that a better future awaits me," said Ahmadi.

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