The United States says two Islamic State militants were killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan overnight, in a retaliatory move that follows a deadly suicide bombing at the Kabul airport two days ago.
On Saturday, American officials warned of a high risk of further attacks by the group — enemies of both the West and the Taliban — as the U.S. winds up its mission in Afghanistan by a Tuesday deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden.
Biden promised on Thursday that Washington would hunt down the perpetrators after scores of Afghans and 13 U.S. troops were killed in the airport blast, the most lethal incident for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a decade.
Taliban fighters block a road with a Humvee vehicle near Kabul airport on Saturday. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)
An overnight U.S. drone attack killed two Islamic State planners and wounded another in Nangarhar province, U.S. Army Major General William Taylor said, referring to an eastern area that borders Pakistan.
The Taliban condemned the U.S. strike.
“The Americans should have informed us [Taliban] before conducting the air strike,” a Taliban spokesperson told Reuters, adding that two women and a child were wounded in the attack. “It was a clear attack on Afghan territory.”
The Taliban have said they have arrested some suspects involved in the airport blast.
Taliban fighters walk at the main entrance gate of Kabul airport on Saturday. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/.Getty Images)
Thursday’s suicide blast, claimed by ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, caused a bloodbath outside the gates of the airport where thousands of Afghans have gathered to try to get a flight out since the Taliban returned to power.
The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 overthrew the then-ruling Taliban in punishment for harbouring the al-Qaeda militants behind the Sept. 11 attacks that year.
The Taliban, facing the loss of billions of dollars of aid for the country, appealed to the United States and other Western nations to maintain diplomatic relations after their withdrawal; Britain said that should only happen if the Taliban allow safe passage for those who want to leave and respect human rights.
The White House said the next few days were likely to be the most dangerous of the evacuation operation. The United States and allies have taken about 111,900 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks, the Pentagon has said.
Another attack likely
U.S. 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. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned Americans to avoid the airport and said those at its gates should leave immediately.
A vendor waits for customers at market in downtown Kabul on Saturday. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)
Most of the more than 20 allied countries involved in airlifting their citizens and Afghans out of Kabul said they had completed evacuations by Friday.
The last British flight evacuating civilians from Afghanistan left Kabul on Saturday, bringing to an end an operation that has airlifted almost 15,000 Afghan and British citizens in the two weeks since the Taliban took control.
British troops would take small numbers of Afghan citizens with them as they leave this weekend, a defence ministry spokesperson said. Armed forces chief Nick Carter said hundreds of people who had worked with Britain would not make it through.
Explosions heard in Jalalabad
A U.S. official said a reaper drone flown from the Middle East struck an Islamic State militant who was planning attacks and was in a car with an associate.
Residents of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, said they had heard several explosions around midnight and community elder Malik Adib said three people were killed and four were wounded in an air strike. He said 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.
The U.S. military statement said: “We know of no civilian casualties.”
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, spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Some U.S. officials said the airport attack could have been avoided in the rushed operation to withdraw troops and get out people at risk.
Taliban fighters sit on a concrete barrier wall painted with an image of late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud as they keep vigil in Kabul on August 28, 2021 following the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)
Biden was already facing criticism at home and abroad for the chaos after Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and military collapsed in the face of the Taliban advance. He has defended his decisions, saying the United States long ago achieved its rationale for invading in 2001.
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