WASHINGTON (AP) – Acting quickly on President Joe Biden’s pledge to respond to the suicide bombing attack at Kabul airport, the US military said it used a drone strike to kill a member of the military on Saturday. the Afghan branch of the Islamic State group.
The strike came amid what the White House called indications that ISIS was planning to strike again as the US-led evacuation of Kabul airport entered its final days. Biden has set Tuesday as a deadline to complete the outing.
Biden authorized the drone strike and it was ordered by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet publicly released.
The airstrike was launched from outside Afghanistan less than 48 hours after the devastating attack on Kabul that killed 13 Americans and dozens of Afghans within days of the final US withdrawal after 20 years of war. US Central Command provided few details; he said he believed his strike did not kill any civilians.
The speed with which the US military responded reflected its close monitoring of ISIS and years of experience targeting extremists in remote parts of the world. But it also shows the limits of US power to eliminate extremist threats, which some say will have more freedom of movement in Afghanistan now that the Taliban is in power.
The central command said the drone strike was carried out in Nangarhar province against an IS member suspected of being involved in planning attacks on the United States in Kabul. The strike killed an individual, spokesman for Captain William Urban said.
It was not clear whether the targeted individual was directly involved in Thursday’s suicide bombing outside the gates of Kabul airport, where crowds of Afghans were desperately trying to enter as part of the evacuation in Classes.
The airstrike came after Biden said on Thursday the perpetrators of the attack could not go into hiding. “We are going to hunt you down and make you pay,” he said. Pentagon executives told reporters on Friday they were ready for any retaliatory action ordered by the president.
“We have options out there right now,” said Major General Hank Taylor of the Pentagon Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The president was warned on Friday to expect another deadly attack in the final days of a frantic US-led evacuation. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s national security team offered a grim outlook.
“They have informed the president and the vice president that another terrorist attack in Kabul is likely, but that they are taking maximum protection measures at the Kabul airport,” Psaki said, echoing that the Pentagon has since said the bombing on Thursday at Kabul airport.
On Friday night, the State Department again urged Americans to stay away from airport gates, including “the door to the new Home Office.”
Few new details about the airport attack emerged a day later, but the Pentagon corrected its initial report that there had been suicide bombings at two locations. He said there was only one – at or near the abbey gate – followed by gunfire. The initial report of a second bombing at the nearby Baron Hotel turned out to be false, said Major General Hank Taylor of the Pentagon Joint Chiefs of Staff; he attributed the error to the initial confusion.
Based on a preliminary assessment, U.S. officials believe the suicide vest used in the attack, which killed at least 169 Afghans in addition to the 13 Americans, contained around 25 pounds of explosives and was loaded with shards of shell, a US official said on Friday. A suicide bombing typically contains five to 10 pounds of explosives, said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss preliminary assessments of the bombing.
Biden still faces the longer-term problem of containing an array of potential extremist threats based in Afghanistan, which will be more difficult with less U.S. intelligence assets and no military presence in the country.
Emily Harding, former CIA analyst and deputy director of personnel for the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she doubts Biden’s assurances that the United States will be able to monitor and strike at terrorist threats across the country. beyond the borders of Afghanistan. The Pentagon also insists that this so-called “horizon” capability, which includes surveillance and attack aircraft based in the Persian Gulf region, will be effective.
During an appearance in the Oval Office on Friday, Biden again expressed his condolences to the victims of the attack. The return home of the remains of the US military in the coming days will provide painful and poignant reminders not only of the devastation at Kabul airport, but also of the costly way the war ends. More than 2,400 US servicemen have died in the war and tens of thousands have been injured over the past two decades.
The Marine Corps said 11 of the 13 Americans killed were Marines. One was a naval sailor and the other an army soldier. Their names have not been released pending notification of their families, a sometimes lengthy process that Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said involves “difficult conversations.”
Yet painful details about those killed were starting to emerge. A Wyoming Marine was on his first tour of Afghanistan and his wife is expecting a baby in three weeks; another was a 20-year-old man from Missouri whose father was devastated by the loss. A third, a 20-year-old Texas, had joined the armed forces after graduating from high school.
Biden ordered American flags at half mast across the country in honor of the 13th.
They were the first US servicemen killed in Afghanistan since February 2020, the month the Trump administration struck a deal with the Taliban that called on the militant group to end attacks on Americans in exchange for a US deal to withdraw. all US troops and contractors in May 2021. Biden announced in April that he would have all forces out by September.
Psaki said the next few days of the evacuation mission for Americans and others, including vulnerable Afghans fleeing the Taliban regime, “will be the most dangerous time yet.”
The White House said as of Friday morning about 12,500 people were flown from Kabul in the last 24 hours on US and coalition planes; within 12 hours, another 4,200 people were evacuated. Psaki said about 300 Americans have left and the State Department is working with about 500 more who wish to leave. The administration said it intended continue and complete the airlift despite terrorist threats.
Kirby told reporters that the US military was monitoring credible and specific threats from ISIS “in real time”.
“We are certainly prepared and look forward to future attempts,” Kirby said. He declined to describe details of any additional security measures taken, including those implemented by the Taliban, around the gates and perimeter of the airport. He said there were fewer people in and around the gates on Friday.
Associated Press editors Aamer Madhani, Darlene Superville, and Nomaan Merchant in Washington contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that the drone strike took place in Nangarhar Province, not Nangahar.