Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sept. 14 that he doesn’t know at this stage whether a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August killed a suspected member of the ISIS-K terrorist group or an Afghan aid worker and his family.
“The guy the Biden administration droned, was he an aid worker or an ISIS-K operative?” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asked Blinken during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Afghanistan withdrawal.
The Kentucky senator was referring to a report by The New York Times that the drone mistakenly struck a car driven by Zemari Ahmadi, a 43-year-old worker for Nutrition and Education International, a California-based aid group.
“The administration is, of course, reviewing that strike. I’m sure that a full assessment will be forthcoming,” Blinken said.
“So you don’t know if it was an aid worker or an ISIS-K operative?” Paul asked.
“I don’t know because we’re reviewing it,” Blinken said.
The exchange comes after Capt. Bill Urban, a Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesperson, confirmed on Aug. 29, a day after the strike, that the United States is investigating reports of civilian casualties from the strike.
Urban said at the time that while the U.S.-led counterterrorism drone attack disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat to Kabul’s international airport, “we would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life.”
The Pentagon said in an earlier statement that the drone strike had killed two “high-profile” ISIS-K terrorist group members and wounded another.
In a Sept. 14 statement, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that the department works “very hard” to avoid civilian casualties, stating that “we would be deeply saddened by any loss of innocent life.”
“You’d think you’d kind of know before you off somebody with a predator drone, whether he’s an aid worker or he’s an ISIS-K operative,” Paul said on Sept. 14, probing Blinken further on the issue.
The Aug. 28 drone strike came shortly after an attack on Kabul’s international airport that killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 100 Afghans. ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate, claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 attack, bragging about a suicide bomber “managing to penetrate all the security fortifications” put in place by U.S. troops and the Taliban terrorist group.
Founded in 2015, ISIS-K is a sworn enemy of the Taliban and the United States. Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the terrorist group is probing the attacks.
Taliban involvement in the attack on the Kabul airport also hasn’t been ruled out by the United States. Kirby said on Aug. 27 that U.S. officials were unsure if the Taliban was involved.