IS planners hit in Nangarhar drone strike: US

Published August 29, 2021
KABUL: People march in protest near the Central Kabul Bank on Saturday. — Reuters
KABUL: People march in protest near the Central Kabul Bank on Saturday. — Reuters

• Women, children among victims, says community elder
• Taliban condemn attack on Afghan territory
• US official says another attack on airport near certain

KABUL: The United States has attacked a militant Islamic State group’s “planner” in the Nan­garhar province bordering Pakis­tan in retaliation for Thursday’s bombing outside the Kabul airport and said there is a high risk of further blasts and attacks as it winds up its evacuation efforts.

The Pentagon declined to say if the people targeted in the latest US strike were directly involved in the suicide bombing. “They were ISIS-K planners and facilitators. That’s enough reason there alone,” said spokesman John Kirby.

Another US official did not rule out future action against the IS group, as the target of its overnight drone strike was not believed to be a senior IS militant.

Thursday’s suicide blast, claimed by the Afghan affiliate of the militant Islamic State (ISIS-K) group, killed scores of Afghans and 13 US service members, the most lethal incident for American troops in Afghanistan in a decade.

The attack was carried out at a time when the US and allied forces have been racing to complete the evacuations and withdraw by the Aug 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden after two decades of American military presence in Afghanistan.

Following the suicide bombing, President Biden had promised that Washington would go after the perpetrators.

The US Central Command said the drone strike took place overnight in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul and bordering Pakistan. “Initial indications are that we killed the target,” a US military statement said.

Spokesmen for the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan as the foreign forces withdrew, did not immediately comment on the drone strike though they had earlier claimed to have “arrested some suspects involved in the airport bombing”.

The White House claimed the next few days were likely to be the most dangerous of the evacuation operation. US officials said another attack against the Kabul airport was a near certainty, and there were fears that it could be more destructive than Thursday’s attack.

A US official said a reaper drone flown from the Middle East struck an IS militant who was planning attacks and was in a car with an associate. Both are believed to have been killed, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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

Women, children among victims

In Jalalabad, community elder Malik Adib said three people were killed and four were wounded in the air strike. He said that he had been summoned by the Taliban investigating the incident.

“Women and children are among the victims,” the community elder added.

However, the US military said: “We know of no civilian casualties.”

The Taliban later condemned the US drone strike against IS militants, with spokesman Zabihullah Muja­hid describing the operation as a “clear attack on Afghan territory”.

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

Mujahid said the Taliban expected to take full control of Kabul airport very shortly. Kabul’s airport has been in chaos though rest of the city in control of Taliban has been generally calm. The Taliban have urged locals to hand over government equipment including vehicles and weapons within a week, he added.

He said officials had already been appointed to run key institutions including the ministries of public health and education and the central bank. He said he expected the serious economic turbulence that had hit the Afghani currency to ease soon. The Taliban who had been holding talks with different Afghan leaders in an attempt to form an inclusive government said they would announce a full cabinet in the coming days once the US forces would finally leave.

Britain said the West should not recognise Taliban rule of Afghanistan unless they allow safe passage for those who want to leave, and respect human rights.

The Taliban soon after takeover pledged amnesty even to those who fought against them and vowed to respect women’s rights to education and work while seeking to form an inclusive government. They also announced commercial flights would resume after the US withdrawal.

The US and its allies, however, said they would continue providing humanitarian aid through the UN and other partners, but any broader engagement including development assistance was likely to hinge on whether the Taliban deliver on their promises of more moderate rule.

Taliban forces are holding some positions within the airport, ready to peacefully take control as American forces fly out, according to spokesman Mujahid.

As the Pentagon claimed that the Taliban were not in control of any operations at the airport, the spokesman told Reuters it was a bit too early to decide whether the Taliban would need help of Nato member Turkey or Qatar to operate Kabul airport. However, he claimed that the group had enough staff to operate the airport.

Outside the airport, Taliban leaders deployed extra forces on Saturday to prevent large crowds from gathering after the devastating suicide attack two days earlier.

The US says the round-the-clock flights have evacuated more than 100,000 people since August 15.

Britain also was carrying out its final evacuation flights on Saturday. Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, in a video from Kabul airport and posted on Twitter said it was time to close this phase of the operation now. “But we haven’t forgotten the people who still need to leave,” he said, vowing to do everything to help them.

As the US and its allies are withdrawing forces after invading Afghanistan two decades ago, Afghans are faced with multiple crises on the administration, defence and economic fronts.

While many Western governments have withheld support from Taliban rule, hundreds of protesters, including many civil servants, gathered outside a bank and countless more lined up at cash machines in Kabul complaining that they hadn’t been paid for three to six months.

They said and were unable to withdraw cash. ATM machines were still operating, but withdrawals were limited to about $200 every 24 hours.

Later Saturday, the central bank ordered commercial bank branches to open and allow customers to withdraw $200 per week, calling it a temporary measure.

The Taliban cannot access almost any of the central bank’s $9 billion in reserves, most of which is held by the New York Federal Reserve. The International Monetary Fund has also suspended the transfer of some $450 million. Without a regular supply of US dollars, the local currency is at risk of collapse, which could send the price of basic goods soaring.

A UN agency warned Saturday that a worsening drought threatens the livelihoods of more than seven million people. The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said Afghans are also suffering from the coronavirus pandemic and displacement from the recent fighting.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2021

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