The United States military struck back at the Islamic State on Saturday, bombing an IS member in Afghanistan, less than 48 hours after a devastating suicide bombing at the Kabul airport.
The devastating bombing claimed by the Islamic State, had killed as many as 169 Afghans and 13 American service members at the Kabul airport, with just days left in a final US withdrawal after 20 years of war.
US Central Command said the drone strike was conducted in Nangahar province against an IS member believed to be involved in planning attacks against the United States in Kabul. The strike killed one individual, spokesman Navy Capt William Urban said.
Central Command said it believed the strike killed no civilians.
It was not clear if the targeted individual was involved directly in the Thursday suicide blast outside the gates of the Kabul airport, where crowds of Afghans were desperately trying to get in as part of the ongoing evacuation.
The airstrike came after Biden declared Thursday that perpetrators of the attack would not be able to hide.
“We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said.
Pentagon leaders told reporters Friday that they were prepared for whatever retaliatory action the president ordered.
The strike came amid what the White House called indications that IS planned to strike again as the US-led evacuation from Kabul airport moved into its final days.
Biden has set Tuesday as his deadline for completing the exit.
Biden authorised the drone strike and it was ordered by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, a defence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet publicly announced.
The speed with which the US military retaliated reflected its close monitoring of IS and years of experience in targeting extremists in remote parts of the world. But it also shows the limits of U.S. power to eliminate extremist threats, which some believe will have more freedom of movement in Afghanistan now that the Taliban is in power.
Late Friday, the State Department again urged Americans to stay away from airport gates, including “the New Ministry of Interior gate.”
Based on a preliminary assessment, US officials believe the suicide vest used in the attack, which killed at least 169 Afghans in addition to the 13 Americans, carried about 25 pounds of explosives and was loaded with shrapnel, a US official said Friday. A suicide bomb typically carries five to 10 pounds of explosives, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss preliminary assessments of the bombing.
Biden still faces the problem over the longer term of containing an array of potential extremist threats based in Afghanistan, which will be harder with fewer US intelligence assets and no military presence in the nation.
In an Oval Office appearance Friday, Biden again expressed his condolences to victims of the attack. The return home of US military members’ remains in coming days will provide painful and poignant reminders not just of the devastation at the Kabul airport but also of the costly way the war is ending. More than 2,400 US service members died in the war and tens of thousands were injured over the past two decades.
The Marine Corps said 11 of the 13 Americans killed were Marines. One was a navy sailor and one 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.”