In US drone strikes, evidence suggests there is no ISIS bomb

[explosion] In one of the last acts of its 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States fired a missile from a drone at a car in Kabul. It was parked in the yard of a home, and the explosion killed 10 people, including 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi and seven children, according to his family. The Pentagon claimed that Ahmadi was a facilitator of Islamic State and that his car was loaded with explosives, posing an imminent threat to U.S. troops guarding the evacuation of Kabul airport. “The procedures were followed correctly and it was a fair strike.” What the military apparently did not know was that Ahmadi was a longtime relief worker who, as colleagues and family members said, spent the hours before he died running office assignments and ended his day pulling up to his house. Shortly afterwards, his Toyota was hit by a 20-pound Hellfire missile. What was interpreted as a terrorist’s suspicious movements may have just been an average day in his life. And it is possible that what the military saw Ahmadi loading into his car were water tanks he brought home to his family – not explosives. Using never-before-seen security camera footage of Ahmadi, interviews with his family, colleagues and witnesses, we will for the first time gather his movements in the hours before he was killed. Zemari Ahmadi was a trained electrical engineer. For 14 years he had worked for the Kabul Office of Nutrition and Education International. “NEI established a total of 11 soybean processing plants in Afghanistan.” It is a California based NGO that fights malnutrition. Most days, he drove one of the company’s white Toyota Corolla, took his colleagues to and from work, and distributed the NGO’s food to Afghans displaced by the war. Just three days before Ahmadi was killed, 13 US soldiers and more than 170 Afghan civilians died in an Islamic State suicide attack at the airport. The military had given lower-level commanders the authority to order airstrikes earlier in the evacuation, and they were preparing for what they feared was another impending attack. To reconstruct Ahmadi’s movements on August 29, in the hours before he was killed, The Times compiled security camera footage from his office with interviews with more than a dozen of Ahmadi’s colleagues and family members. Ahmadi appears to have left his home around 1 p.m. 9. He then picked up a colleague and his boss’ laptop near his house. It is around this time that the US military claimed to have observed a white sedan leaving an alleged Islamic State safehouse, about five kilometers northwest of the airport. That’s why the US military said they tracked down Ahmadi’s Corolla that day. They also said they intercepted communications from the safehouse and instructed the car to make several stops. But every colleague who drove with Ahmadi that day said that what the military interpreted as a series of suspicious movements was just a typical day in his life. After Ahmadi picked up another colleague, the three stopped for breakfast, and at 9:35 a.m., they arrived at the NGO’s office. Later that morning, Ahmadi drove some of his staff to a Taliban-occupied police station to get permission for future food distribution in a new displacement camp. At 2 p.m., Ahmadi and his colleagues returned to the office. The security camera footage we received from the office is crucial to understanding what happens next. The camera’s time stamp is off, but we went to the office and confirmed the time. We also matched an exact scene from the footage with a time-stamped satellite image to confirm that it was accurate. At 2.35pm, Ahmadi pulls out a hose and then he and a colleague fill empty containers with water. Earlier that morning, we saw Ahmadi bring the same empty plastic containers to the office. There was a shortage of water in his neighborhood, his family said, so he regularly brought water home from the office. Around 3.38pm, a colleague Ahmadi’s car moves further into the driveway. A senior U.S. official told us that at about the same time, the military saw Ahmadi’s car drive into an unknown area 8 to 12 kilometers southwest of the airport. It overlaps with the location of the NGO’s office, which we believe is what the military called an unknown connection. When the workday ended, an employee turned off the office generator and the feed from the camera ends. We do not have footage of the moments that followed. But it is at this point that the military said its drone feed showed four men carefully loading wrapped packages into the car. Officials said they could not tell what was inside them. This footage from earlier in the day shows what the men said they were carrying – their laptops, one in a plastic shopping bag. And the only things in the trunk, Ahmadi’s colleagues said, were the water tanks. Ahmadi dropped off each of them and then drove to his home in a close neighborhood near the airport. He backed into the home’s small courtyard. Children surrounded the car, according to his brother. A US official said the military feared the car would drive again and drive into an even more crowded street or to the airport itself. The drone operators, who had not seen Ahmadi’s home at all that day, quickly scanned the yard and said they only saw a grown man talking to the driver and no children. They decided this was the time to strike. A US official told us that the attack on Ahmadi’s car was carried out by an MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired a single Hellfire missile with a 20-pound warhead. We found remnants of the missile, which experts said matched a Hellfire at the site of the attack. In the days following the attack, the Pentagon repeatedly claimed that the missile attack triggered other explosions and that these were likely to kill the civilians in the yard. “Significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a significant amount of explosive material.” “Because there were secondary explosions, there is a reasonable conclusion to be drawn that there were explosives in that vehicle.” But a senior military official later told us it was only possible to prove that explosives in the car caused another explosion. We collected photos and videos of the scene taken by journalists and visited the farm several times. We shared the evidence with three weapons experts, who said the damage was consistent with the impact of a Hellfire missile. They pointed to the small crater under Ahmadi’s car and the damage from the metal fragments of the warhead. This plastic melted as a result of a car fire triggered by the missile attack. All three experts also pointed out what was missing: Any evidence of the major secondary explosions described by the Pentagon. No collapsed or blown walls, including next to the trunk with the alleged explosives. No sign that another car parked in the yard was overturned by a large explosion. No destroyed vegetation. All of this is consistent with what eyewitnesses told us that a single missile exploded and triggered a major fire. There is one last detail visible in the wreck: containers identical to those that Ahmadi and his colleague filled with water and loaded into his trunk before going home. Although the military said the drone team saw the car for eight hours that day, a senior official also said they were not aware of any water tanks. The Pentagon has not provided The Times with evidence of explosives in Ahmadi’s vehicle or shared what they say is the intelligence service that linked him to Islamic State. But the morning after the United States killed Ahmadi, Islamic State actually fired rockets at the airport from a residential area that Ahmadi had run through the day before. And the vehicle they used was a white Toyota. The U.S. military has so far acknowledged only three civilian deaths from its attack and says an investigation is underway. They have also admitted that they knew nothing about Ahmadi before killing him, which led them to interpret the work of an engineer at a US NGO as a terrorist from Islamic State. Four days before Ahmadi was killed, his employer had applied for his family to be allowed to resettle refugees in the United States. At the time of the strike, they were still awaiting approval. Looking to the United States for protection, they instead became some of the last victims of America’s longest war. “Hi, I’m Evan, one of the producers of this story. Our latest visual investigation began with the announcement on social media of an explosion near Kabul airport. It turned out that this was a US drone attack, one of the last actions in the 20-year war in Afghanistan.Our goal was to fill in the gaps in the Pentagon’s version of events.We analyzed exclusive surveillance camera footage and combined it with eyewitness accounts and expert analysis of the aftermath of the strike.You can see more of our investigations by signing up for our newsletter . “

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