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An errant US drone strike killed 10 members of their family. They're still awaiting compensation

David Pierson and Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The admission of error so soon after the incident was unusual and likely prompted by the intense media attention, experts tracking civilian deaths in conflict zones said.

The U.S. has a poor track record awarding condolence payments to noncombatants. Not a single offer of monetary compensation to civilians was made in 2020 despite Congress allocating $3 million in funding each year to compensate those harmed by U.S. military operations anywhere in the world. Independent estimates suggest that about 71,000 noncombatants were killed in the Afghanistan war since the U.S. invaded in 2001.

“When it comes to ex gratia payments specifically, once the U.S. investigates and confirms civilian casualties, the decision to offer an ex gratia payment is a matter of commander’s discretion,” said Annie Shiel, a senior advisor for U.S. policy at the Washington-based Center for Civilians in Conflict.

“In a case like this one,” Shiel said of Emal’s family, “where civilian harm has already been confirmed and where the identities of survivors are known and they are reachable by the U.S. government, it should just be a matter of just making the decision to offer a payment.”

Emal said the only officials who have spoken to him about the strike were three Taliban members who visited his home to inform him of the U.S. apology after McKenzie’s news conference.


He fears for the safety of his surviving family and other Afghan civilians as political instability widens, sectarian violence intensifies and the U.S. adopts an “over the horizon” counter-terrorism strategy that relies heavily on drone strikes.

“I have no doubt more people will die the way my family members died,” Emal said. “If we are to avoid what my family has gone through, we need a working government. There should be rule of law and accountability. But if this continues, more families will suffer.”


(Los Angeles Times staff writers Pierson reported from Singapore and Yam from Kabul.)

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