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US offers to pay relatives of 10 killed in botched Afghan drone strike

The United States said on Friday it has offered to pay unspecified compensation to relatives of 10 people in Afghanistan including seven children who were killed by mistake in a US drone strike as American forces were completing their withdrawal.

In a statement, the Pentagon also said it was working with the US State Department to relocate to the US any of those relatives who wish to leave Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

The offer to pay these people was made on Thursday in a meeting between Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defence for policy, and Steven Kwon, the founder and president of an aid group active in Afghanistan called Nutrition and Education International (NEI), the Pentagon said in a statement.

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That organisation employed Ezmarai Ahmadi, who was wrongly identified as a member of the militant Islamic State (IS) group by US intelligence on August 29 during the final days of the chaotic US evacuation from Kabul.

US intelligence tracked his white Toyota for eight hours before targeting the car with a missile, killing seven children and three adults, including Ahmadi.

US Central Command commander General Kenneth McKenzie said at the time that American intelligence had seen the vehicle at a site in Kabul that had been identified as a location from which IS operatives were believed to be preparing attacks on the Kabul airport.

Three days earlier an IS-Khorasan suicide bomber had killed scores at the airport, including 13 US service members.

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But last month, US officials conceded the drone attack was an error.

In the meeting on Thursday, “Dr Kahl noted that the strike was a tragic mistake and that Mr Ezmarai Ahmadi and others who were killed were innocent victims who bore no blame and were not affiliated with ISIS-K or threats to US forces,” said a statement attributed to Defence Department spokesman John Kirby.

“Dr Kahl reiterated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s commitment to the families, including offering ex gratia condolence payments,” he added without saying how much money was offered.

Last month, relatives of the people killed in the attack demanded compensation and a face to face apology.

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Austin has apologised for the botched attack. However, Ahmadi’s 22-year-old nephew Farshad Haidari said that was not enough.

“They must come here and apologise to us face-to-face,” he told AFP in a bombed-out, modest house in Kwaja Burga, a densely populated neighbourhood in Kabul.

Haidari, whose brother Naser and young cousins also died in the blast, said on Sept 18 that the US had made no direct contact with the family.

In the meeting on Thursday, NEI chief Kwon spoke of how Ahmadi worked with that aid organisation “over many years, providing care and lifesaving assistance for people facing high mortality rates in Afghanistan“.

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