Beyond some boarded-up windows and a burnt-out 4×4 in the drive, there is little sign of the atrocity that took place at Aimal Ahmadi’s family home. On August 29 last year, a US drone strike hit the house, instantly killing ten civilians.
Aimal’s three-year-old daughter, Malika, and his older brother were among the dead. Washington said at the time its target was a suspected Islamic State bomber bound for Kabul’s international airport.
Authorities had been on high alert after a suicide attack at the airport by the militants’ Afghan branch, Isis-K, killed more than 170 civilians and 13 US soldiers three days earlier.
Washington’s claim was quickly found to be groundless and, nearly one year on, Ahmadi is about to be relocated to California with his wife and seven-year-old daughter, Ada, as a gesture of condolence.
Leaving his country has been tough, but even more difficult is the idea of living under the administration that killed his family. “Losing your children is a pain like no other. My nephews and nieces were like my children, my elder brother was like a father to me,” Aimal told The Times. “This year has been the hardest year of our lives, a year full of pain and anger . . . every day is a struggle without Malika.”
US military officials did not know the identity of the driver behind the wheel of the Toyota Corolla. Surveillance of his activities that day led them to believe, however, he may have visited an Isis safe house. They also saw him loading what they suspected to be explosives into the car.
The driver was Aimal’s older brother, Zamarai Ahmadi, who was working for Nutrition and Education International, a US aid organisation. He had worked as an electrical engineer for the organisation since 2006.
When Zamarai, 43, arrived at the house that afternoon, he let his 10-year-old son, Farzad, jump into the driver’s seat, his family recounted. Some of the other children also climbed into the car. Moments later they were all dead, fragments of their bodies flying over boundary walls and landing in neighbouring gardens.
It was probably canisters of water that the military mistook for explosives, an investigation by The New York Times concluded.
The US Defence Department said at the time it was committed to offering condolence payments to the relatives to compensate for their devastating mistake. Aimal is still waiting for financial compensation. “We have tried to talk to US officials but have had no luck. The only solution is to go to America and speak to them face to face,” he said.
“It is hard to leave your country. It’s your home. We had no choice other than to leave to continue our case, to get justice.”
He arrived in Doha two weeks ago and is staying in a refugee camp with his wife and daughter. Once their paperwork is complete they will join Aimal’s brother Romal in California. Romal lost all three of his young children in the strike.
The family left the house the same day of the attack, initially moving in with relatives. In the months that followed, when relocation was offered, they were moved around a lot; first to Jalalabad for two months when there was talk of relocating them out through Pakistan, before returning to Kabul, where they lived in different hotels.
Back at the house, the remains of the Toyota Corolla that had been carrying the children when the missile hit have since been removed from the yard.
Above where the car had been sitting, a green grape vine has wound its way around a newly fitted overhanging trellis — a sign of life in contrast to the death that was inflicted beneath it. Hanging above the reinstalled entrance gate is a banner with the photos of the victims — lest they ever be forgotten.
Looking after Aimal’s house in the neighbourhood of Khwaja Boghra, in the north of the capital city, is Nasratullah Malakzada. He lives alone most of the time. It’s he who is responsible for the trellis and the grapevine.
“We’ve kept the 4×4 as a sort of reminder. We don’t want what happened to ever be forgotten,” said Malakzada, 20, a relative. “I’m here to make sure the house is kept safe and clean.”
He was the first on the scene after the strike and desperately tried to save 14-year-old Faisal Ahmadi. “I carried Faisal in my arms to the hospital. He was so badly wounded his guts were spilling out of his belly. No car would stop for us,” he said.“I still find it hard to accept they’re all dead. I imagine they went to a party or something, and that they’ll return.”
Scars are visible throughout the community.
Farida Ghawsi, 42, who lives opposite Aimal’s house, said they were cleaning human remains and shrapnel from their garden for days after the strike. She was also injured.
“My hearing has been affected and I have to wear a hearing aid now. My youngest son, Mansoor, has been mute since it happened,” said Ghawsi.
Mansoor, 9, had been in the street with his older brother at the time of the strike, while Ghawsi had been standing at her gate. The impact of the blast had thrown her against the metal entryway. Her sons came racing back into the house, physically unscathed.
“Even if you gave the family the whole world it would never be enough, nothing can replace the children they’ve lost,” she said.