Zemari Ahmadi
Zemari Ahmadi killing was a shocking intel failure by the US in Afghanistan Image Credit: Ador Bustamante/Gulf News

On a warm Sunday afternoon in August, Zemari Ahmadi was coming back home in his white Corolla following a long day at work. As he pulled into his driveway in Kwaja Burga, a suburb in the northwest of Kabul suburb, the family’s children, nine of them, ran to the car as they did almost every day, perhaps looking forward to what he might have brought them — sweets, or maybe a cake. On that day, he had no chance to greet them. Fate was quick and cruel.

As he handed the car keys to his eldest son to park it, the sound of a screeching missile was momentarily heard, and one second later, the car was blown away. The deafening sound of the explosion was heard around the area, killing Ahmadi, his three children, and the six other nieces and nephews, whose little bodies were melded into the twisted metal of the bombed car.

The car was struck by a missile launched by an American drone that was probably tracking Ahmadi for some time. The United States Central Command ordered the 29 August strike based on supposedly solid intelligence that the man was planning an “imminent” attack on Kabul’s airport.

'Righteous strike'

The US military at the time was scrambling to evacuate tens of thousands of American citizens before the withdrawal deadline and as the Taliban forces were closing in on the capital. General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the attack that killed Ahamdi and the nine children as “righteous strike”. However, as it was revealed later, the strike was as far from righteous as it gets. It was a plain criminal act.

Zemari Ahmadi, a 43-year-old father of three, was an electrical engineer who had worked since 2006 for the California-based Nutrition and Education International (NEI), an US NGO that says it fights malnutrition in developing countries. According to its website, NEI “introduced soybeans as an ideal protein source to end malnutrition in Afghanistan. To date, we have trained more than 125,000 farmers in 34 provinces. 80 per cent of the farmers trained have made soybean farming their livelihood.”

For 14 years, Ahmadi worked for the Kabul office of the NGO, where he would drive NEI specialist around the country and introduce them to the local population. A nice fella who just wanted to make a difference in his country, ravaged by war, poverty and underdevelopment for decades.

The Americans for some reason however thought he was an Daesh operative. The brutal murder of Ahmadi and the 9 children in the drone strike came few days after an Daesh shadowy offshoot claimed responsibility for the airport bombing that killed several US soldiers. Obviously panicking, the US brass went for the kill. And they insisted that it was a “righteous” attack.

However, after damning investigative reports by the New York Times and the Washington Post newspapers, which proved the real identity of Ahamdi and concluded it was just plain reckless act of pure panic operation by the US military, the Pentagon two months later admitted it was a “tragic mistake”.

Few days after the NYT and WP reports, Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defence for policy, met with Steven Kwon, president of NEI, the NGO Ahmad worked for, to “apologise” on behalf of the US government. “Mr. Zemari Ahmadi and others who were killed were innocent victims who bore no blame and were not affiliated with Daesh-K or threats to US forces,” he was quoted as saying.

Justice for all?

The family thus expected justice from a country that is built on the premise of ‘justice for all’. For months, they waited for accountability. But the appalling verdict came last week: there was no need for disciplinary action! This is the conclusion of “a high-level internal review” which was approved Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. It claimed that “no law had been broken, and there was no evidence of misconduct or negligence.”

Ahmadi who believed in the ‘ideals’ of America has been betrayed by those ideals. I don’t think the panel’s conclusion will be the same had he and those nine children been Americans. But they were Afghanis. And in the new America, justice is apparently not for all. Remember the Haditha massacre in Iraq? There was no accountability either.

And that is the reason the US is losing credibility and respect in the world public opinion. The world’s superpower, the beacon of democracy and human rights has lost its moral compass. This is something the right and the left in the US seem to agree on.

Some thought that the reign of Donald Trump, which led America to an abhorrent decline when it comes to those basic ideals — democracy, rule of law and human rights, was an aberration, an immoral convulsion. But as the left-leaning magazine the Atlantic put it (5 October 2020 just before the elections that brought in Joe Biden): those condition will not disappear if Trump is defeated.

The right wing think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, agreed, saying (a year earlier on 26 August 2019) that “what is striking is the reluctance of everybody else, Democrats and Republicans alike, to effectively defend the ideals of American global leadership” against the dismal approach of Donald Trump.

A colleague at NEI told the New York Times that Zemari Ahamdi loved America. Zemari’s brother said his murdered brother wanted to move the family to the US.

He actually had open resettlement applications for the US for himself and the family. However, he and his children, nieces and nephews were slain four months ago by the same country they loved. And then they were killed again last week when that same country denied them justice and exonerated the people who killed them.