- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2021

The car that U.S. military officials believed was packed with explosives and destined for a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport on Aug. 29 may actually have been driven by an innocent man transporting canisters of water, a new report claims.

A New York Times story published Friday afternoon identified the driver of the car as Zemari Ahmadi, 43, who worked as an electrical engineer for an American aid and lobbying group doing business in Afghanistan. The Times cited numerous interviews with family members, relatives and others with knowledge of the Aug. 29 incident, and the new report seems to cast serious doubt on the official version of events laid out by the Pentagon.

The drone strike took place during the final days of the frantic U.S. airlift from Kabul. Just days earlier, suicide bombers and gunmen with the terrorist group ISIS-K killed 13 U.S. troops and more than 160 Afghans in an attack at the airport. U.S. officials predicted more attacks were likely in the days before America’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.

Amid those fears, U.S. drones on Aug. 29 targeted a car that officials said was being driven by an ISIS-K fighter and likely packed with explosives. The belief was that the car was headed for the airport to carry out another deadly attack and to spark panic among the large crowds that had gathered there.

“U.S. military forces conducted a self-defense unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent ISIS-K threat to Hamad Karzai International airport,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement shortly after the drone strike. “We are confident we successfully hit the target. Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”

In the days that followed, other top military officials echoed that belief. 

But The Times story, citing multiple sources with knowledge of the driver’s activities that day, said that Ahmadi stopped to pick up coworkers and a laptop computer on his way to work. Later, he reportedly stopped to fill several empty plastic containers with water.

U.S. officials interpreted those moves and others made Aug. 29 as being suspicious, according to The Times report. There was also an apparent belief among U.S. officials that he had visited a facility suspected to be an ISIS-K safehouse. The canisters of water, the Times reported, may have been mistaken for explosives.

Afghans in the area at the time of the strike have told numerous media outlets that at least 10 people were killed as a result. The U.S. has not acknowledged that figure.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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