Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul pressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the identity of a drone strike target on Tuesday, demanding to know whether he was a terrorist amid reports that an aid worker was mistakenly killed.
“The guy the Biden administration droned,” Paul said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, was he an aid worker or an ISIS-K operative?” Blinken replied, “I don’t know because we’re reviewing it.”
Defense Department officials hailed the “defensive” strike as a precision operation against incoming suicide bombers on the penultimate day of the U.S.-led evacuation at Kabul’s international airport. Yet subsequent reports suggest that the bombing was a case of mistaken identity that left 10 civilians dead, most of them children.
“I can’t speak to that, and I can’t speak to that in this setting in any event,” Blinken said.
Paul implied that the administration had been cavalier in the lead-up to the strike, which took place just days after the Islamic State Khorasan claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. military service members and more than a hundred civilians.
“Well, see, you’d think you’d kinda know before you off somebody with a predator worker whether he’s an aid worker or whether he’s an ISIS-K [terrorist],” Paul said. “We can’t sort of have an investigation after we kill people. We have an investigation before we kill people.”
Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Sept. 1 that “at least one of those people that were killed was an ISIS facilitator” and endorsed the intelligence-gathering and analysis that led to the operation. “At this point, we think that the procedures were correctly followed and it was a righteous strike,” he said at the Pentagon.
Afghans living in the Kabul neighborhood painted a different picture, telling Western journalists that the strike had ravaged one of the families applying for resettlement to the United States due to their fear that the Taliban would punish them for past work for a U.S.-based aid group.
“I have no hope left. All of my family members were killed yesterday,” a man characterized as one of their surviving relatives told the Daily Beast. “I have no one to cry to. I lost my niece, nephews, cousins, my own family members. I want justice.”
That allegation gained weight following a New York Times investigation, based on security footage analysis and local interviews, that identified the victim of the attack as Zemari Ahmadi, an employee of Nutrition and Education International.
“The administration is, of course, reviewing that strike, and I’m sure that a full assessment will be forthcoming,” Blinken said.