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Surviving Relatives of U.S. Drone Strike Victims Remain Stranded in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — Soon after the U.S. navy mistakenly killed 10 civilians, together with seven youngsters, final August in the ultimate U.S. drone strike earlier than American troops withdrew from Afghanistan, the Biden administration pledged to assist surviving members of the household relocate to the United States for his or her security.

Nearly a 12 months later, fewer than a dozen of the 144 relations have been resettled in the United States and 32 folks stay trapped in Afghanistan with little hope of getting out quickly, advocates for the household mentioned on Monday. The relaxation have been caught for months in a diplomatic limbo after being taken to 3 nations to await screening to enter the United States.

The odyssey of the family members of Zemari Ahmadi, the driving force of a white Toyota sedan that was struck by the American drone, and others employed by Mr. Ahmadi’s support group in Afghanistan is a saga of passport issues, bureaucratic pink tape and Taliban capriciousness. On at some point in June, for example, 43 relations touring overland have been allowed to cross into Pakistan. The very subsequent day, the same group was turned again on the border after the Taliban imposed new travel-document guidelines.

Lawyers for the relations praised the efforts of the Pentagon and the State Department to assist evacuate their purchasers, and mentioned they’d shunned commenting publicly till now to guard their purchasers’ security. But they mentioned far more wanted to be accomplished and have been now breaking their silence.

“As the anniversary of the strike approaches, the public needs to know that the government is failing to meet its promises, and our clients’ lives are in the United States’ hands,” mentioned Brett Max Kaufman, a senior workers legal professional for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing members of Mr. Ahmadi’s household in addition to different staff of Nutrition & Education International, Mr. Ahmadi’s support group in Afghanistan.

Mr. Ahmadi’s relations and different staff of the help group the U.S. authorities agreed to evacuate are a small subset of the greater than 120,000 Afghans who have been airlifted after the Taliban seized management of the nation final August, and the hundreds who sought to flee however have to this point failed.

Officials mentioned the prospects for extracting the final 32 relations hiding in Afghanistan turned extra difficult after the C.I.A. two weeks in the past killed Ayman al-Zawahri, the chief of Al Qaeda, whereas he was hiding out in a home in a crowded part of the Taliban-controlled Afghan capital.

“I remain increasingly scared for the people — including Zemari’s family members and our N.E.I. colleagues — who are still stuck in Afghanistan without any certainty or timeline to get out,” Steven Kwon, the founder and president of Nutrition & Education International, mentioned in a press release.

“The U.S. government must keep its promise and get all those affected by its mistaken drone strike to safety before it’s too late,” Mr. Kwon mentioned.

Pentagon officers mentioned they’d been working for months together with State Department and White House colleagues to evacuate the relations and different staff of the help group, regardless of now not having any American navy or diplomatic presence in Afghanistan.

“The Department of Defense, in coordination with other U.S. government departments and agencies, continues to take steps to respond to the Aug. 29, 2021, airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan,” Todd Breasseale, the appearing Pentagon press secretary, mentioned in a press release. “To protect the privacy of the family members, as well as to help protect their safety and security, we are not able to provide more information regarding these efforts at this time,” Mr. Breasseale added.

Senior Defense Department officers and navy commanders acknowledged quickly after the drone strike that Mr. Ahmadi had nothing to do with the Islamic State, opposite to what navy officers had beforehand asserted. Mr. Ahmadi’s solely connection to the terrorist group gave the impression to be a fleeting and innocuous interplay with folks in what the navy believed was an Islamic State secure home in Kabul, an preliminary hyperlink that led navy analysts to make one misjudgment after one other whereas tracking Mr. Ahmadi’s movements in the sedan for the following eight hours.

In addition to resettlement in the United States, the Pentagon has offered unspecified condolence payments to relations. Administration officers and attorneys for the household mentioned negotiations over any funds have been suspended till all relations have been safely evacuated from Afghanistan.

Congress has licensed the Pentagon to pay as much as $3 million a 12 months for funds to compensate for property injury, private harm or deaths associated to the actions of U.S. armed forces, in addition to for “hero payments” to the relations of native allied forces, reminiscent of Afghan or Iraqi troops combating Al Qaeda or ISIS.

Condolence funds for deaths attributable to the American navy have assorted extensively in current years. In the 2019 fiscal 12 months, for example, the Pentagon offered 71 such payments — starting from $131 to $35,000 — in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Almost every thing senior protection officers asserted in the hours, days and weeks after the Aug. 29 drone strike turned out to be false. The explosives that the navy claimed have been loaded in the trunk of the sedan struck by the drone’s Hellfire missile have been most likely water bottles, and a secondary explosion in the courtyard in the densely populated Kabul neighborhood the place the assault occurred was most likely a propane or gasoline tank, officers mentioned.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the top of the navy’s Central Command on the time, mentioned in a news conference last September that the strike was carried out “in the profound belief” that the Islamic State was about to assault Hamid Karzai International Airport, because the group had accomplished three days earlier, killing about 170 civilians and 13 U.S. troops.

The acknowledgment of the mistaken strike got here per week after a New York Times investigation of video evidence challenged assertions by the navy that it had struck a automobile carrying explosives meant for the airport.

Several weeks later, in November, Colin H. Kahl, the below secretary of protection for coverage, provided the condolence funds and the assistance resettling to Mr. Kwon in a digital assembly.

One of the primary issues was to outline the dimensions of the group to obtain the help. One group included rapid and prolonged relations of Mr. Ahmadi. A second group was made up of different staff of the help group and a few of their relations. In all, 144 folks — together with a major quantity of youngsters — have been recognized as warranting help to depart the nation for his or her security, mentioned Mr. Kaufman, the A.C.L.U. lawyer.

With no American personnel remaining in Afghanistan, the State Department employed a contractor to assist feed, dress and shelter the relations whereas U.S. officers sought to rearrange flights or different means for the Afghans to depart the nation.

The group confronted hindrances immediately. Many of the people had no passports or different journey paperwork that the Taliban and receiving nations would settle for. Commercial flights in and out of the nation have been sporadic. Two aged kin died through the ready interval.

But slowly, the road of relations started to maneuver. Most flew instantly to 1 of three nations — Albania, Kosovo or Qatar — the place, like many different Afghan refugees, they acquired medical care and safety processing as refugees. Some joined a convoy and drove out of the nation into Pakistan, and on to 1 of the transit nations.

The first relations arrived in the United States in May, with others coming in July. In all, 11 relations have resettled in three states, which Mr. Kaufman didn’t establish for safety causes.

“That some members of Zemari’s family have begun to pick up the pieces of their lives with a new start in America is undoubtedly good news,” Mr. Kaufman mentioned. “But the bottom line is that the government has not done enough, and many of our clients remain in danger.”

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