Antony Blinken Says 'I Don't Know' Who U.S. Killed in Kabul Drone Strike

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "I don't know," when asked on Tuesday whether a recent U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan killed suspected terrorists or a civilian Afghan aid worker and his family.

Blinken made his comment during a Tuesday Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul asked Blinken about reports concerning an August 29 military drone strike.

"The guy the Biden administration droned, was he an aid worker or an ISIS-K operative?" Paul asked Blinken.

Blinken replied, "The administration is, of course, reviewing that strike. I'm sure that a full assessment will be forthcoming."

Paul then asked, "So you don't know if it was an aid worker or an ISIS-K operative?"

Blinken said, "I can't speak to that and I can't speak to that in this setting in any event."

Paul asked, "So you don't know or won't tell us?"

Blinken responded, "I don't know because we're reviewing it."

Blinken Afghanistan drone strike civilian Rand Paul
During a September 14 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to examine the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified that he didn't know whether a recent drone strike killed a civilian or a suspected terrorist. U.S. military officials said the strike had killed several suicide bombers. Bill O'Leary/Getty

U.S. Central Command is investigating the incident, though it won't use on-ground investigators to assess what happened, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said in a Tuesday Department of Defense briefing. He added that it is common practice for the U.S. military to investigate allegations of its own wrongdoing.

"I know that they're looking into this and they're taking it very seriously," Kirby told reporters.

U.S. military officials said the strike had killed several suicide bombers who had planned on attacking Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Officials said the drone strike also killed three civilians.

Drone surveillance on the day of the strike showed that the strike's targets had stopped by an ISIS safe house and loaded explosives into their car, U.S. officials said. The U.S. drone missile strike set off a second wave of explosions after hitting the target's car, suggesting that the vehicle contained explosives, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, said last week.

However, the now-deceased target of the attack was Zemari Ahmadi, a 43-year-old electrical engineer for Nutrition and Education International, a California-based group doing work in Afghanistan, The New York Times reported.

Ahmadi's associates and family members told the publication that he and his car's passengers on the day of the strike had no ISIS ties. They added that he had applied for refugee status in the U.S. and that he had put water containers—not explosives—into his car earlier in the day.

Ahmadi's relatives said the drone strike killed 10 members of their family, including seven children, the Times reported. The drone's missile hit their home's front gate. Experts from the publication examined their home the morning after the strike and four days later and found no evidence of a second explosion, contradicting the U.S. military's claim about explosives in the car.

At the time of the strike, the U.S. military was actively monitoring terrorist threats in response to ISIS-K agents attacking the airport. The airport became a crowded departure point as the U.S. rushed its efforts to evacuate U.S. civilians, service members and Afghan allies by the United States' agreed-upon August 30 deadline.

Update (9/15/2021, 12:01 a.m.): This article has been updated to include additional information from a Department of Defense press briefing.