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U.S. launches drone strike on Islamic State after Afghan airport blast

U.S. launches drone strike on Islamic State after Afghan airport blast

The United States launched a drone strike in Afghanistan, apparently killing an Islamic State “planner”, after the group claimed a deadly bombing outside Kabul airport, as Western forces running the airlift braced for more attacks.

 

Among the 92 killed in Thursday’s suicide bomb blast, claimed by Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate, were 13 U.S. service members, the most lethal incident for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a decade.

 

“Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties,” the U.S. military said in a statement, referring to the overnight drone strike.

 

U.S. Central Command said the strike took place in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul and bordering Pakistan. It did not say whether the target was connected with the airport attack.

 

 


Residents of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, said on Saturday they had heard several explosions from an air strike around midnight, though it was not clear if the blasts were caused by a U.S. drone.

U.S. launches drone strike on Islamic State after Afghan airport blast
U.S. launches drone strike on Islamic State after Afghan airport blast

The White House said the next few days were likely to be the most dangerous of the U.S. evacuation operation that the Pentagon said has taken about 111,000 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks

 

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States believed there were still “specific, credible” threats against the airport after the bombing at one of its gates.

 

“We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts,” Kirby told reporters in Washington. “We’re monitoring these threats, very, very specifically, virtually in real time.”

 

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned Americans to avoid Kabul’s airport because of security threats and those at its gates should leave immediately.

 

 


U.S. and allied forces have been racing to complete evacuations of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans and to withdraw from Afghanistan by the Tuesday deadline set by President Joe Biden after two decades of American military presence there.

Map showing the main border crossings and airports in Afghanistan

Most of the more than 20 allied countries involved in airlifting Afghans and their citizens out of Kabul said they had completed evacuations by Friday.

 

Britain will end its operation on Saturday, its armed forces chief said, while acknowledging that it, like other countries, had not been able to get everyone out.

 

Throngs of people have gathered outside the airport to try to get onto evacuation flights since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, although on Friday Taliban guards stopped people from approaching.

 

Biden said earlier he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate that claimed responsibility for Thursday’s bombing.

 

Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate, known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) after an old name for the region, appeared in eastern Afghanistan in 2014 and later made inroads into other areas, particularly the north.

 

The group is an enemy of the Islamist Taliban as well as the West. The Pentagon said Thursday’s attack was carried out by one suicide bomber at an airport gate, not two as it had earlier stated.

 

 


BLASTS IN JALALABAD

The strike came amid what the White House called indications that IS planned to strike again as the U.S.-led evacuation from Kabul airport moved into its final days. Biden has set Tuesday as his deadline for completing the exit.

 

Biden authorized the drone strike and it was ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet publicly announced.

 

The airstrike was launched from beyond Afghanistan less than 48 hours after the devastating Kabul attack that killed 13 Americans and scores of Afghans with just days left in a final U.S. withdrawal after 20 years of war. U.S. Central Command provided few details; it said it believed its strike killed no civilians.

 

The speed with which the U.S. military retaliated reflected its close monitoring of IS and years of experience in targeting extremists in remote parts of the world. But it also shows the limits of U.S. power to eliminate extremist threats, which some believe will have more freedom of movement in Afghanistan now that the Taliban is in power.

 

Central Command said the drone strike was conducted in Nangahar province against an IS member believed to be involved in planning attacks against the United States in Kabul. The strike killed one individual, spokesman Navy Capt. William Urban said.

 

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the drone strike was against an Islamic State militant planning attacks.

 

 


A reaper drone, which took off from the Middle East, struck the militant who was in a car with an Islamic State associate. Both are believed to have been killed, the official said.

A mountainous area in Nangarhar Province in 2019. The U.S. said it had targeted an ISIS planner in Nangarhar after the attack near the Kabul airport on Thursday.

In Jalalabad, community elder Malik Adib said three people were killed and four were wounded in the air strike at around midnight on Friday, adding he had been summoned by the Taliban investigating the incident.

 

“Women and children are among the victims,” said Adib, though he did not have information about their identity.

 

A senior Taliban commander said some ISIS-K members had been arrested in connection with the Kabul attack. “They are being interrogated by our intelligence team,” the commander said.

 

The number of Afghans killed in the airport bomb attack rose to 79, a hospital official told Reuters on Friday, adding that more than 120 were wounded. Some media reported a death toll of up to 170.

 

While Kabul’s airport has been in chaos, the rest of the city has been generally calm. The Taliban have told residents to hand over government equipment including weapons and vehicles within a week, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

 

Biden was already facing criticism at home and abroad for the chaos surrounding the troop withdrawal and evacuations. As the Taliban rapidly advanced to Kabul amid the pullout, Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and military collapsed. Biden has defended his decisions, saying the United States long ago achieved its rationale for invading the country in 2001.

 

 


The U.S.-led invasion toppled the then-ruling Taliban, punishing them for harbouring al Qaeda militants who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

 

The Taliban have said Afghans with valid documents would be able to travel freely in future – comments aimed at calming fears that they planned harsh restrictions.

 

But the population left behind is facing a “catastrophic” humanitarian situation, U.N. officials say, and up to half a million Afghans could flee their homeland by year-end.

 

 

Reuters/AP

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