The US military has said that it carried out a drone strike on Saturday at an ISIS- Khorasan (ISIS-K) group in eastern Afghanistan, killing a “planner” of this week’s terrorist attack at the Kabul airport.
“US military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner,” Captain Bill Urban, spokesperson for the US Central Command, said in a statement.
“The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan,” Captain Urban said. “Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties.”
The announcement did not identify the targeted individual but indicated that this could be the first of many reprisals at ISIS-K targets for Thursday’s terrorist attacks at the Kabul airport.
Before the drone attack, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin telephoned Turkish Minister of National Defence Hulusi Akar and thanked “Turkey for its longstanding and significant support to the mission at Hamid Karzai International Airport,” the Pentagon said.
They agreed to stay closely engaged with respect to any future arrangements at the airport.
Secretary Austin also spoke with Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defence Affairs Dr Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah about the situation in Afghanistan. Qatar is facilitating the transit of US citizens, embassy personnel, and at-risk Afghans from Afghanistan to the US.
Over 100 people, including 13 US service members and 22 Taliban fighters, were killed in the attacks.
ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attacks, prompting an immediate response from US President Joe Biden who addressed his nation on Thursday evening and vowed to punish the perpetrators,
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” the president declared.
Biden also ordered American military commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K “assets, leadership and facilities.”
The attack at the airport was one of the deadliest in nearly two decades of the US-led war in Afghanistan.
White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, said at a Friday afternoon news briefing that the militants were planning another attack in Kabul.
“The threat is ongoing, and it is active. Our troops are still in danger,” she said.
The attack at the Kabul airport has enraged Americans who were already unhappy with the Biden administration for Kabul’s collapse last week.
New York Times noted that President Biden’s pledge to “hunt down” the terrorists responsible for the attack “had grim echoes of warnings President George W. Bush made after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.”
By Friday afternoon, the Biden administration appeared to be targeting ISIS-K militants with the Taliban’s cooperation to ensure the smooth evacuation of US personnel and their Afghan allies.
Late on Friday, the US Embassy in Kabul warned US citizens still at the Kabul airport to “leave immediately.”
Although contacts between the Taliban and US military officials started soon after the former took over Kabul last week, diplomatic sources told journalists in Washington that Thursday’s blasts persuaded both to enhance their contacts.
On Friday, Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the US National Security Council told reporters that “in limited cases, we have shared information with the Taliban that has successfully facilitated evacuations from Kabul.”
Earlier on Thursday evening, a Washington-based news service Politico reported that US officials in Kabul had shared with the Taliban a list of American citizens, green card holders and Afghan allies who wanted to leave the country. The Taliban were asked to allow these people to enter the militant-controlled outer perimeter of the airport.
The Taliban not only obliged but also safely guided those people to the US military personnel who control the inner perimeter of the airport, the report added.
Since the fall of Kabul in mid-August, nearly 100,000 people have passed through the Taliban’s many checkpoints on their way to the airport.
Asked about the report at a news conference, President Biden said: “There have been occasions when our military has contacted their military counterparts ... and said this, for example, this bus is coming through with x number of people on it, made up of the following group of people. We want you to let that bus or that group through,” he said. “So, yes, there have been occasions like that. To the best of my knowledge, in those cases ... they have been let through [in most cases].”
But he rejected the suggestion that US authorities had handed over a list of their Afghan allies to the Taliban.
“I can’t tell you with any certitude that there’s actually been a list of names,” he added. “There may have been. But I know of no circumstance. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist ... it could very well have happened.”
A n NBC News report claimed that veterans of the US Special Forces also carried out their own operations to bring about 500 Afghan allies and their families to the airport and they, too, operated through the Taliban-controlled areas.
Other US media sources reported that this undeclared coordination with the Taliban has continued despite the airport attacks, creating new opportunities for cooperation between the two sides.