Washington’s Wars: The Killing of Zemari Ahmadi

The US government killed no ISIS-K fighters in its drone strike in Kabul last month. Instead, it killed 10 civilians.

Zemari Ahmadi arrived home from work on Aug. 29 as his white Toyota Corolla was hit by an MQ-9 Reaper drone missile. He worked with Nutrition & Education International, a US-sponsored NGO, which gives food and water to war-ridden Afghan refugees. On the 29th, video footage shows, he spent his day visiting the office, drawing up business plans, and filling up water containers for his family; for after the US-backed Ashraf Ghani regime collapsed, his family’s water supply started to run short. Ending his day where he started it, Ahmadi parked his car outside his home, greeting members of his family, when Ahmadi and nine others, including seven children, were killed.

Drone operators tailed Ahmadi for eight hours before issuing his death sentence, for intelligence forewarned that another terrorist attack on the Hamid Karzai International Airport was likely. Days before, an Islamic State suicide bombing, leading to a chaotic scene on the ground during which members of the US military reportedly fired into the crowd, killed 169 Afghans and 13 US servicemembers. Fearing another attack, and the progress and stability of America’s withdrawal mission, US military command ran on high alert and took notice of a combat-aged, adult male driving around Kabul in a white Toyota Corolla, which they thought had been packed high with explosives. To the drone team, the compound to which Ahmadi traveled was an Islamic State secret facility, the water jugs were bombs, and the laptop cases, stored away within the vehicle, were also wrapped packages which could be explosives. As Ahmadi returned home from his day’s dealings, unknowing of the target now on his back and what he’d done to deserve it, a missile struck. "‘I cannot confirm’ who we killed in the drone strike," said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. But it was necessary to "prevent an imminent attack on the airport."

Sadly, this is what normalcy looks like. Botched withdrawals, broken promises, fanatical foreign policies, no accountability, and a lot of dead people; these are the lessons learned from Washington’s Global War on Terror.

"The guy the Biden administration droned," Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky asked Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on Sept. 14, "was he an aid worker or any ISIS-K operative?"

"I don’t know," said Blinken, "we’re reviewing it."

The Paul-Blinken exchange occurred on Tuesday – 16 days after the strike.

The New York Times and The Washington Post conducted reports about Ahmadi’s death, consulting with independent experts at the scene. "The damage was consistent with a single Hellfire strike, and not large explosions," the Times reported.

A government review is ongoing, but that doesn’t mean much for those who lost loved ones. A review isn’t bringing them back. Only eight hours of surveillance was necessary to convince those in the military command that Ahmadi must be terminated. It takes weeks after the matter, however, to decide whether or not it was the right guy – for the nine other bystanders, who knows. And when it’s announced that Ahmadi was the wrong guy, no one gets fired or disciplined for it.

Should we be shocked?

American airstrikes killing innocents are not atypical occurrences. A recent Airwars analysis identified that, since 2001, the US has declared "at least 91,340 strikes" across its conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. According to their estimate, as little as 22,679 people, while as many as 48,309, have been likely slain by US drone airstrikes, with the majority of deaths occurring in Iraq (2003) and Syria (2017). For the people of Afghanistan, and the Middle East broadly, Ahmadi’s story is all too familiar. Innocent lives lost, families torn apart, and communities reduced to rubble – all for what, exactly?

Like Ahmadi, I drive a Toyota Corolla – it’s a pretty good machine. Moreover, I am also a "fighting-age" male. These simple-minded observations and categories are what got him killed. Living in the United States – where the thought of a drone strike hitting my car outside of my apartment would never occur to me – Americans are mostly protected from the excesses of Washington’s tyranny. We can walk around freely without fearing that imminent death might come upon us from the sky. Ahmadi wasn’t so lucky.

It is heedless to think that these will be the last innocent people killed during Washington’s global war. The "war" isn’t over; Washington has merely rebranded it. No matter how it’s characterized – War on Terror, Crusade Against Evil, Great Power Competition, Over-the-Horizon counterterrorism – it’s still an ill-defined, unrestrained, and imperial mission that imperils the liberty and security of everyone.

Brett Kershaw is a young independent writer, historian, and creator of the NewPublicForum.com – a site created to help foster ideological dialogue, preserve heterodox views and provide an alternative to the corporate press.