The U.S. has conducted a drone strike east of Afghanistan, targeting the terror outfit ISIS-K. The strike follows ISIS-K’s suicide bomber attack at the Kabul airport on Aug. 26. The airport is the sole international exit point currently active in Afghanistan that is under the control of Western nations. Washington has been given a Aug. 31 deadline by the Taliban to carry out the evacuation process.
Capt. Bill Urban of Central Command called the airstrike an “over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation.” A Reaper drone that was launched from the Middle East struck a planner for ISIS-K who was in a car with another member, killing both. “The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties,” Urban said in a statement.
The Aug. 26 blast is thought to have killed up to 170 people, including 13 American troops. President Joe Biden had promised to hunt down the jihadists. In an Aug. 28 statement, Biden said that the strike “was not the last” and that American forces will continue pursuing people involved in the attack and “make them pay.” He also warned of more attacks on the airport.
“The situation on the ground continues to be extremely dangerous, and the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high. Our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours,” Biden said. The U.S. embassy in Kabul has issued a security alert, warning Americans to avoid traveling to the airport due to the persistent security threats.
ISIS-K (Islamic State Khorasan Province) is the Afghanistan affiliate of the ISIS outfit. Set up in January 2015, it recruits members from both Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially former Taliban members who believe that their own group was not extreme enough. Unlike Taliban that is mostly confined to Afghanistan, ISIS-K has more of an international outlook, something that has been a point of contention between the outfits.
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“The hostility between the two groups arose both from ideological differences and competition for resources. IS accused the Taliban of drawing its legitimacy from a narrow ethnic and nationalistic base, rather than a universal Islamic creed,” according to the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University.
At present, roughly 4,000 troops are stationed at the Kabul airport, down from 5,800 troops at the peak of evacuation efforts. Most of them are scheduled to leave the site by Aug. 31. Taliban has refused to accept foreign presence past the deadline.
Meanwhile, President Biden is facing criticism in the aftermath of the airport attack. Republican Senator Josh Hawley called the incident a product of “Joe Biden’s catastrophic failure of leadership,” and saying the president’s failure in Afghanistan was “costing American lives” every hour.