I first heard about Emal when American forces launched a drone strike in Kabul, which they said targeted a suicide car bomber suspected of preparing an attack on the airport.
That day, ten members of Emal’s family were killed, including his 3-year-old daughter, Malika, and his older brother Zemarai Ahmadi.
“Only God knows about my hurt”, he told me when I finally met him at the site of that US strike — right next to huge columns of debris still taking up the entire courtyard.
It takes Emal about fifteen seconds to list the names of all those killed in a rocket attack that targeted his home on August 29.
One US official said the strike was carried out by a drone and that secondary explosions showed the vehicle had been loaded with a “substantial amount of explosive material.”
But Emal refutes that claim: “You know the USA made a big mistake in targeting the civilians in here. It is a mistake. They should have first found information about my family, about my brother, what is his job, what is he doing, what are the members of the family doing. After that, they could have targeted us.”
Eyewitnesses talk about one large blast shaking the neighbourhood, and amateur footage showed black smoke rising into the sky.
Emal describes the horror of coming home to find the bodies of his loved ones scattered by the yard and the sidewalk: “Some of them, like my daughter, my brother’s sons… They were in pieces, unfortunately. They were pieces of meat. It was terrible”.
The US Central Command said it was investigating reports of civilian casualties.
But Emal said nobody had come to gather evidence so far: “no one’s come here, only reporters. No one from the government, or from the USA, no one’s come in here for us, for condolences.”
The US Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley says “the procedures were correctly followed” and that the attack “was a righteous strike”.
The Pentagon claims Zemarai Ahmadi was a “facilitator for the Islamic State” — and that his car was packed with explosives, posing an imminent threat to US troops.
But an investigation by the New York Times based on security footage of Zemarai Ahmadi pieced together his movements hours before he was killed. What they found seems to suggest Zemarai Ahmadi was not an imminent threat to US troops, but a long time aid worker. And that he was not carrying explosive material, but water containers to his house because of a water shortage in his neighbourhood.
Special Immigration Visa
Four days before Zemarai Ahmadi was killed, the American NGO he worked for had applied for his family to receive refugees resettlement in the United States. At the time of the strike, they were still awaiting approval.
Emal says now the plans of relocating to America have been abandoned. He also wanted to send a message to foreign nations: “My message for the USA and other countries is that they should try and avoid making mistakes in Afghanistan. Do not try to target civilian people. Because Afghan people like members of their family a lot. And when they lose a father or brother or son is very difficult for them.”
The US has since admitted knowing nothing about Zemarai Ahmadi before killing him. And the morning after the strike that killed Emal’s family, the self-proclaimed Islamic State group did attack the airport again, using rockets launched by a white Toyota, like Zemari Ahmadi’s.