When the notorious Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan last week, Pentagon officials were triumphant. President Barack Obama described his death as an "important milestone in our longstanding effort to bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan."
The "we got him" rhetoric quickly overshadowed the fact that Mansour's taxi driver, who had unwittingly picked him up at a border crossing between Pakistan and Iran, was also killed in the drone strike.
Mohammad Azam was the sole breadwinner of his large family, supporting his wife, four kids and disabled brother.
Now, Azam's family are lodging a criminal lawsuit against the US government.
'This was an attack on our family that hardly earns enough for two meals a day," Mohammad Qasim, Azam's older brother told the Guardian. "Who will feed them now? I appeal to the civilized world, including all those human rights bodies, to investigate the brutal murder of my brother and compensate his children." Azam worked as a driver in Taftan, a small, dusty desert town close to an Iranian border crossing.
Qasim told the Guardian that he has filed a "first investigation report" for the death of his brother — a written document that is prepared by police organizations in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. The document names "US authorities" as responsible for Azam's death.
"I want justice and demand action against the US authorities" the document reportedly asserts.
Pakistani authorities are obliged to investigate the incident, per police protocol. As it stands, relations between the US and Pakistan are a little rocky. Pakistani officials were not impressed that the US only informed them of the strike after it happened, a senior American official told the New York Times. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry put out a statement on Sunday condemning the attack as a violation of the country's sovereignty — the same gripe that Pakistani authorities had after US commandos carried out a raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in 2011, which resulted in his death. Then, too, the US only told Pakistan the raid was happening after the fact.
As news started to travel that one of Washington's most wanted was killed, a US official speaking anonymously told Reuters that Mansour and "another combatant" had been targeted in a vehicle southwest of Ahmad Wal, a province about 20 miles from the Afghan border.
What officials failed to mention was that the supposed second "combatant" was Azam, an unassuming taxi driver who picked up Mansoor in his white Toyota Corola after the Taliban leader crossed over the border from Iran, passing himself off as a Pakistani citizen, using a passport and a national ID card with the fake name Muhammad Wali.
According to news reports, Mansour had been in Iran receiving medical treatment and visiting members of his family. The Guardian spoke with Ahmed Jan, an employee of a bus company stationed at the border crossing. Mansour was reportedly looking for a ride to Quetta, Pakistan's ninth largest city located in Balochistan province, about 373 miles away from Taftan, where he crossed the border. Jan tried to sell Mansour a bus ticket, but Mansour wanted to take a taxi.
"He said, "I want to go in a car," Jan told the Guardian, "so I called Habib and asked him to provide a car. Habib took a little commission and gave the job to Azam.
US drone strikes have long been a source of controversy. As of 2014, Open Society Foundations estimated that US drone strikes in Pakistan killed well over 2,000 individuals, including an unknown number of civilians.
"Despite long-voiced concern over civilian harm, and US officials' promises of greater transparency, the United States has clearly and consistently failed to account for and provide redress and compensation for civilian harm from these strikes" the Open Society report said.
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Qasim said he hasn't heard from anyone in the US government regarding compensation. The US army has previously compensated civilians victims of US military activity in Afghanistan, but not Pakistan. Should the US justify the strike on Pakistani soil as a necessary component to the ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, then advocates say that victims of such operations should be compensated as such.
The Pentagon issued a statement after Mansour's death, using an alternative spelling of the former Tailban leader's name.
"Since the death of Mullah Omar and Mansur's assumption of leadership, the Taliban have conducted many attacks that have resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and Afghan security forces as well as numerous US and coalition personnel," the statement said. "We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available."