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US says ISIS-K ‘planner’ of Kabul airport attack killed

WASHINGTON:  The US has carried out a drone strike against an Isis-K “planner” in eastern Afghanistan, in its first move to retaliate against the terrorist group for its deadly attack on Kabul airport on Thursday. The United States forces helping to evacuate Afghans desperate to flee Taliban rule were on alert on Saturday for more attacks after an ISIL-affiliated suicide bombing killed at least 175 people. Thirteen US service members and 162 Afghans died in the attack outside Kabul airport.

“The unmanned air strike occurred in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target,” Captain Bill Urban of the US Central Command said in a statement. “We know of no civilian casualties.”

The US military 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.

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki

“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. 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.”

File picture of Afghan refugees coming to border to enter Pakistan

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.

She dismissed criticism of President Biden’s chaotic Afghanistan evacuation efforts, including from Democrats in Congress, saying it’s “easy to throw stones.”

Psaki also said Biden intends to kill the suspected Islamic State terrorists involved in the Kabul airport bombing that killed 13 US troops on Thursday.

“He does not want them to live on the Earth anymore,” she said at her daily press briefing.

Psaki said Biden won’t ask any generals to resign for the messy withdrawal while pushing back on fellow Democrats who faulted the planning to remove US troops by Aug. 31.

“I don’t have any direct response to any member of Congress, but what I will say is that it is easy to throw stones or be a critic from the outside. It is harder to be in the arena and make difficult decisions,” Psaki said.

Drone

The final US departure on Tuesday is expected to leave behind thousands of Afghans who worked for the US government along with an unknown number of stranded US citizens.

New York Times reporter Michael Shear and Psaki engaged in an extended dialog after the journalist objected to “this idea that there were only two choices” between remaining in Afghanistan and hastily evacuating from Kabul’s airport.

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.” Late on Friday, the US Embassy in Kabul warned US citizens still at the Kabul airport to “leave immediately.”

According to US Central Command on Friday night, American forces conducted an “over-the-horizon counter-terrorism operation” in Nangarhar province of the country. “Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties,” a spokesperson said.

The strike by the US follows Joe Biden’s vow on Thursday to “hunt down” and punish members of the Isis-K terrorist group, after a suicide bombing on Kabul airport that claimed scores of lives including 13 members of the American military. The US move came in the wake of new warnings from top American security officials that another terror attack in Kabul is likely, just days ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan.

The White House said on Friday that the US president was told at a briefing in the morning that “another terror attack in Kabul is likely”, and John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said there were still “specific, credible threats” to the airport. After Biden’s meeting with national security aides in the White House’s situation room, he told reporters that he stood by his decision to continue the evacuation up until Tuesday’s withdrawal deadline. 

“The mission there that they perform is dangerous, and now has come with a significant loss of American personnel, but it’s a worthy mission,” Biden said in the Oval Office. “We will complete the mission.” Late on Friday the US embassy in Kabul reiterated calls for US citizens to avoid travelling to the Afghan capital’s airport and to leave any of its entrances “immediately”.