Sloppy drone strike in Kabul started with the wrong car
[explosion] In one of the last acts of its 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States fired a missile from a drone at a car in Kabul. It was parked in the courtyard of a house, and the explosion killed 10 people, including Zemari Ahmadi, 43, and seven children, according to his family. The Pentagon claimed Ahmadi was a facilitator for the Islamic State and that his car was filled with explosives, posing an imminent threat to US troops monitoring the evacuation at Kabul airport. âThe procedures were followed correctly and it was a virtuous strike. What the military apparently didn’t know was that Ahmadi was a long-time aid worker, who colleagues and family say spent the hours before his death running office errands. and ended his day by stopping off at his home. Shortly after, his Toyota was hit by a 20-pound Hellfire missile. What was interpreted as the suspicious movements of a terrorist was perhaps just an ordinary day in his life. And it is possible that the soldiers saw Ahmadi loading in his car water cans that he brought back to his family, and not explosives. Using images from Ahmadi’s never-before-seen security cameras, interviews with his family, colleagues and witnesses, we will reconstruct for the first time his movements in the hours leading up to his assassination. Zemari Ahmadi was an electrical engineer by training. For 14 years he worked for the Kabul office of Nutrition and Education International. âNEI has established a total of 11 soybean processing plants in Afghanistan. It is a Californian NGO which fights against malnutrition. Most of the time, he would drive one of the company’s white Toyota Corollas, take his colleagues to and from work and distribute NGO food to Afghans displaced by the war. Just three days before Ahmadi was killed, 13 US soldiers and more than 170 Afghan civilians died in an Islamic State suicide bombing at the airport. The military had given lower level commanders the power to order airstrikes earlier in the evacuation, and they were preparing for what they feared was another impending attack. To reconstruct Ahmadi’s movements on August 29, in the hours leading up to his assassination, The Times reconstructed footage from his office’s security camera, with interviews with more than a dozen colleagues and members of Ahmadi’s family. Ahmadi appears to have left his home around 9 a.m. He then retrieved a colleague and his boss’s laptop near his home. It was around this time that the US military claimed to have observed a white sedan leaving a suspected Islamic State refuge, about three miles northwest of the airport. This is why the US military said it followed Ahmadi’s corolla that day. They also said they intercepted communications from the hideout, ordering the car to make several stops. But every colleague who rode with Ahmadi that day said what the military interpreted as a series of suspicious moves was just a typical day in their life. After Ahmadi picked up another colleague, the three stopped for breakfast and at 9.35am they arrived at the NGO office. Later that morning, Ahmadi led some of his colleagues to a Taliban-occupied police station to obtain permission for a future food distribution at a new IDP camp. At around 2 p.m., Ahmadi and his colleagues returned to the office. The security camera footage we got from the office is crucial to understanding what happens next. The camera time stamp is off, but we went to the office and checked the time. We also matched an exact scene in the footage with a timestamp satellite image to confirm it was accurate. At 2:35 p.m., Ahmadi takes out a hose, then he and a colleague fill empty containers with water. Earlier that morning, we saw Ahmadi bring those same empty plastic containers to the office. There was a shortage of water in his neighborhood, his family said, so he regularly brought water from the office to the house. At around 3:38 p.m., a colleague moved Ahmadi’s car further down the aisle. A senior US official told us that around the same time, the military saw Ahmadi’s car enter an unknown compound 8 to 12 kilometers southwest of the airport. This overlaps with the location of the NGO office, which we believe to be what the military has called an unknown compound. At the end of the workday, an employee turns off the office generator and the camera feed stops. We have no images of the moments that followed. But that’s when the military said its drone feed showed four men carefully loading wrapped packages into the car. The officials said they couldn’t tell what was inside. These images from earlier today show what the men said they were carrying – their laptops in a plastic bag. And the only things in the trunk, Ahmadi’s colleagues said, were the water cans. Ahmadi dropped off each of them, then went to his home in a dense area near the airport. He stepped back into the small courtyard of the house. Children surrounded the car, according to his brother. A US official said the military feared the car would pull away and go down an even busier street or to the airport itself. The drone operators, who had not monitored Ahmadi’s house at all that day, quickly swept the yard and said they saw only one adult male talking to the driver and no children. They decided it was time to strike. A US official told us that the strike on Ahmadi’s car was carried out by an MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired a single Hellfire missile with a 20-pound warhead. We found remnants of the missile, which experts said matched a Hellfire at the scene of the attack. In the days following the attack, the Pentagon has repeatedly claimed that the missile strike set off further explosions and that these likely killed civilians in the yard. “Large secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.” “Because there were secondary explosions, there is a reasonable conclusion to be drawn that there were explosives in this vehicle.” But a senior military official told us later that it was only likely that explosives in the car caused another explosion. We collected photos and videos of the scene taken by journalists and visited the courtyard on several occasions. We shared the evidence with three weapons experts who said the damage matched the impact of a Hellfire missile. They pointed out the small crater under Ahmadi’s car and the damage caused by the metal fragments of the warhead. This plastic melted as a result of a car fire triggered by the missile strike. The three experts also pointed out what was missing: any evidence of the large secondary explosions described by the Pentagon. No collapsed or blown walls, including next to the chest with suspected explosives. No sign that a second car parked in the yard was hit by a large explosion. No vegetation destroyed. This all matches what eyewitnesses told us, that a single missile exploded and started a large fire. There is one last detail visible in the wreckage: containers identical to the ones Ahmadi and his colleague filled with water and loaded into his trunk before returning home. Even though the military said the drone team monitored the car for eight hours that day, a senior official also said he was not aware of any water cans. The Pentagon did not provide The Times with evidence of explosives in Ahmadi’s vehicle or share what they say was intelligence linking it to Islamic State. But the morning after the United States killed Ahmadi, ISIS launched rockets at the airport from a residential area Ahmadi had passed through the day before. And the vehicle they were usingâ¦â¦ was a white Toyota. The US military has so far recognized only three civilian deaths from its strike and says an investigation is underway. They also admitted not knowing anything about Ahmadi before killing him, leading them to interpret the work of an engineer for an American NGO as that of an Islamic State terrorist. Four days before Ahmadi was killed, his employer requested that his family be resettled in the United States. At the time of the strike, they were still awaiting approval. Rather, turning to the United States for protection, they became one of the latest casualties in America’s longest war. âHello, I’m Evan, one of the producers of this story. Our latest visual investigation began with news on social media of an explosion near Kabul airport. It turned out to be a US drone strike, one of the last acts of the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Our goal was to fill in the gaps in the Pentagon’s version of events. We analyzed proprietary footage from security cameras and combined them with eyewitness testimony and expert analysis on the aftermath of the strike. You can see more of our surveys by subscribing to our newsletter.