The Pentagon said Friday that the U.S. would issue "condolence payments" to relatives of 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, killed in an August drone strike—an attack military officials had initially defended as a "righteous strike" targeting an explosive-laden vehicle destined for militants and later admitted to being a "horrible tragedy" that claimed innocent lives.
The statement from Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby followed a Thursday virtual meeting that included Dr. Steven Kwon, president and CEO of Nutrition & Education International (NEI), and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl. NEI had employed as a technical engineer Zemari Ahmadi, who was killed along with nine members of his family in the August 29 Hellfire missile strike in Kabul as the US was pulling its troops out of Afghanistan.
"Kahl noted that the strike was a tragic mistake," said Kirby, "and that Mr. Ezmarai Ahmadi and others who were killed were innocent victims who bore no blame and were not affiliated with ISIS-K or threats to US forces."
"Dr. Kahl reiterated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's commitment to the families, including offering ex gratia condolence payments," the statement added. The statement further indicated the Pentagon is working with the State Department to help resettle surviving members of Ahmadi's family in the US, according to the Washington Post.
NEI's Kwon, in a Thursday statement, welcomed the meeting with the Pentagon officials as a positive step. In addition to being "like a son to me," Kwon praised Ahmadi as a "gifted engineer" who was "an essential part of our operations and successes."
The American Civil Liberties Union is representing NEI as it asks the US government to help resettle the victims, provide compensation, and begin a thorough probe into the strike. Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, drew attention to the fact that the scrutiny and pledge for compensation in the case is an anomaly. Watchdog groups have repeatedly said the military's tally of civilian victims are vast undercounts and meaningful compensation is often absent.
"The U.S. wrongly killed [Ahmadi family members'] loved ones, and what makes this tragedy different from so many others during the war in Afghanistan," she said, "is that because of public attention, top Pentagon officials met with NEI and explicitly promised to help." Shamsi also expressed hope "that the investigation into the strike provides NEI and the Ahmadi family meaningful transparency and accountability."
In a statement last month following the US admission of a mistake in the deadly Kabul attack, Amnesty International also drew attention to the ongoing need for US accountability for its strikes across the globe.
"Many similar strikes in Syria, Iraq, and Somalia have happened out of the spotlight, and the U.S. continues to deny responsibility while devastated families suffer in silence," said Brian Castner, senior crisis advisor with Amnesty International's Crisis Response Programme. "The US," he said, "must ensure that it ends unlawful strikes, consistently and thoroughly investigates all allegations of civilians harmed in attacks, and publicly discloses its findings."
Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security With Human Rights program at Amnesty International USA, said "the Biden administration must not repeat the violations of previous administrations and must now prioritize civilian protection."
"President [Joe] Biden should show real concern for civilians by taking more meaningful steps to prevent civilian casualties as a result of all US lethal operations," she said, "as well as to investigate and assist those harmed."