The American employer of a man killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan has pushed back on the official US narrative and strongly denied that he was an Isis-K terrorist, saying the US government “has disgraced his honourable name,” in a statement to The Independent.
Serious questions have now been raised about the drone strike after The Times reported that the target was a technical engineer working for a California-based aid group and discovered evidence that he is not an Isis-K terrorist as suggested by US officials. In Kabul, Mr Ahmadi’s relatives said that nine other people were killed in the attack, including seven children.
Following the strike, US officials said the vehicle’s driver posed a threat to US forces at Kabul airport after he was seen loading what appeared to be explosives into his car, and then stopped at an alleged Isis-K safe house in the city.
But Dr Steven Kwon, the founder of California-based, non-profit Nutrition and Education International (NEI), said the US government is lying, in an email to The Independent this weekend.
“The false accusation that our talented, dedicated, long-term employee is instead a plotting Isis-K terrorist has disgraced his honourable name,” Dr Kwon wrote.
The president of the aid organisation said that Mr Ahmadi was a technical engineer who had worked for NEI since 2006. NEI works to end protein deficiency in Afghanistan by helping women and children suffering from malnutrition.
Dr Kwon said Mr Ahmadi was “well-respected by his colleagues and compassionate towards the poor and needy”.
The NEI founder, who has visited Afghanistan more than 70 times, said Mr Ahmadi helped establish 11 soy-processing factories in Afghanistan and had previously been in charge of humanitarian feeding programs.
After the Taliban takeover of Kabul on 17 August, Mr Ahmadi had “shifted his efforts to preparing and delivering soy-based meals to hungry women and children at local refugee camps in Kabul”, his employer wrote, and “bravely navigated around the celebrating Taliban” to deliver food.
Dr Kwon said that other NEI employees in Afghanistan are now at great risk because of the US military.
“The incorrect media statements made by the Pentagon claiming that the NEI Kabul compound is an ISIS-K safe house and that NEI’s employees are Isis-K insurgents is putting our remaining Kabul employees at great risk,” he wrote.
Dr Kwon said that his organization’s employees are afraid that they and their families will be killed by the Taliban.
“This is not an unfounded fear as the Taliban have already come to the NEI compound and injured our night guard,” the charity boss added.
He said that his “top priority” is to clear Mr Ahmadi’s name by “publicly confirming that he was not associated with Isis-K but was instead a talented, dedicated, and caring NEI employee”.
“NEI’s honourable reputation built upon years of hard work has been damaged by this false association with Isis, and must be restored,” Dr Kwon said.
The Pentagon and the US State Department declined to comment on Dr Kwon’s allegations to The Independent.
In an earlier statement, a Pentagon spokesperson said that “no other military works harder than we do to prevent civilian casualties”. The official noted that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, has said the drone strike was based on good intelligence and that the US believes that it took out an imminent threat to the airport.
US officials said that prior to the strike, aerial surveillance followed Mr Ahmadi to a compound southwest of Kabul airport. The Times reported that this matched the location of the NEI office.
US officials also stated that Mr Ahmadi was seen loading load heavy items into a car with the help of three other individuals. Military officials thought the packages could be explosives.
Dr Kwon said Mr Ahmadi and an NEI guard “carried and loaded into the trunk of Zemari’s vehicle three black bottles each filled with 30 litres of water, and one yellow plastic bottle filled with 20 litres of water”.
He added that Mr Ahmadi didn’t have city water at his home so he would often bring the empty containers to work to fill and take them home at the end of the day.
Dr Kwon said it was “unclear” why the drone would have “misidentified these water containers as explosives”.
Dr Kwon also told The Independent that as the US-based president of a non-profit, he expected to have been contacted by the Pentagon as part of the investigation into the drone strike and would be “fully cooperative”.
“As this call never came, I have tried to set up a meeting with Pentagon officials but they continue to ignore our requests,” he added.
He has also contacted Democratic California Congresswoman Judy Chu to help set up a Pentagon meeting, he said. The Independent has reached out to Representative Chu for comment.
According to the New York Times investigation, published on Friday, Mr Ahmadi was hit by a US drone in the courtyard of his Kabul home on 29 August.
US officials said a Reaper drone followed a vehicle for several hours and then attacked because of evidence that the car was carrying explosives. But video analysis and interviews at the site of the drone strike provided a different version.
Reporting by The Times, including interviews with more than a dozen co-workers and relatives of Mr Ahmadi, casts doubt on the claims of explosives in the vehicle. It has brought into question that the driver had connections to Isis, and that a subsequent explosion followed the drone strike.
Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command said the drone strike had “disrupted an imminent Isis-K threat to the airport”.
He added that the US military knew “that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle” which indicated “a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties”.
The Times reported that there appeared to be no evidence of a second explosion as the US military claimed.
In response to The Times report, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said US Central Command “continues to assess the results of the airstrike in Kabul on August 29”.