Eyewitnesses and Taliban officials said a US drone strike in Kabul has killed nine members of the same family, mostly children.

Afghan residents and family members of the victims gather next to a damaged vehicle inside a house, day after a US drone airstrike in Kabul
Afghan residents and family members of the victims gather next to a damaged vehicle inside a house, day after a US drone airstrike in Kabul (Wakil Kohsar / AFP)

On Sunday afternoon, Arezo found herself witnessing scattered pieces of flesh and broken bones just outside her house in Afghanistan's capital city.

Those bodies parts were of her family members, including her two-year-old daughter, who were killed in a US drone strike in Kabul's Khaje Bughra neighborhood.

Seven other members of the same family were also killed in the airstrike.

For hours, the family had no answers to what happened, as media reported a US "defensive airstrike" in Kabul, targeting a suspected Daesh-K (ISIS-K) suicide bomber who posed a threat to the city's airport.

Until Monday afternoon, relatives and neighbours continued picking and identifying body parts of the victims and separating them into coffins. 

It was a tragic coda to America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan, just a day before the full withdrawal of troops by August 31 ordered by President Joe Biden, leaving the family without answers. 

"Arezo witnessed her family scattered in pieces. She saw her two-year-old daughter's head separated from her body," Dina Hamidi, a relative, told TRT World. 

"Unfortunately, the Afghan Human Rights Commission, the UN and the entire international community have not reacted or pressed the US for answers to this drone strike that killed innocent people."

Who was killed in the airstrike?

Nine members of one family were killed in the US drone attack on Sunday, including six children. 

Zemarai Ahmadi, 40, an engineer was also killed, including his children Sumaya, 2, Farzad, 8, and Faisal, 10.

Others included Zemarai's brother-in-law, Naser Nejrabi, 30, who served in the previous government's National Directorate of Security and Ayat, 2, Armin, 4, Binjamen, 3 and Zameer, 18 who were Zemarai's nephews. 

The family's service to foreign forces had paved a way for them to be eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa offered by the US.

"They were going to leave the country in the next few days. This was a normal Afghan family. No member of ISIS was killed in the incident," Hamidi told TRT World.

Cost of US-led drone attacks

A statement from US Central Command said on Monday that the US is aware of reports of civilian casualties and is assessing the results of the strike. 

Navy Captain William Urban, spokesman for Central Command, said that “substantial and powerful” subsequent explosions resulted from the destruction of the vehicle, which may have caused additional casualties.

However, neighbours speaking to TRT World said the drone strike targeted the family's car. 

They described the horrors of the scene saying one of the children was "completely crushed" and beyond recognition. 

"I have known this family for years, seeing them die like has left us all in shock, how can children be ISIS suspects?" Rehman Fazili, one of the neighbours, told TRT World. 

The US-led coalition and Afghan airstrikes have killed numerous civilians with aerial and drone strikes in the past, mostly in Nangarhar, Maidan Wardak, Kunduz and Logar.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, it's estimated between 4,126 to 10,076 people have been killed since January 2004, including between 300 to 909 civilians from US drone strikes in Afghanistan alone.

Civilian casualties skyrocketed in Afghanistan under former President Donald Trump, whose administration relaxed the rules of engagement for airstrikes in 2017.

In 2019 alone, 700 civilians in the country were killed by airstrikes, according to a December 2020 study from the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

It is, however, a rare sight that a drone attack was conducted in a Kabul neighbourhood. 

The strike came two days after Daesh-K claimed a suicide attack outside the city's Hamid Karzai International Airport killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members.

"Launching such attacks in major urban centres definitely raises spectre of civilian casualties. The burden is on those seeking to strike, to avoid civilian loss," Ibraheem Bahiss, an Afghanistan expert with the International Crisis Group, told TRT World.

Bahiss further explains that although these drone strikes have been effective in taking out militant commanders and foot soldiers, the civilian casualties, which too often result from these strikes, "have generally proved to be a potent tool for militant recruitment and recuperation from losses".

Back in Kabul, mourners at the funeral bid a teary goodbye to the family killed in the airstrike.

"They were innocent," Dina said, as well as many others at the funeral who knew the family.

With reporting by Mucahid Durmaz in Istanbul and Haanya Malik in Kabul.

Source: TRT World