Western forces running the Afghan airlift braced on Saturday for more attacks after the United States launched a drone strike, apparently killing an Islamic State “planner”, two days after the group claimed a deadly bombing outside Kabul airport.
Among the 92 killed in Thursday’s suicide blast, claimed by Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate, were 13 U.S. service members, the most lethal incident for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a decade.
“Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties,” the U.S. military said in a statement, referring to the overnight drone strike.
U.S. Central Command said the strike took place in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul and bordering Pakistan. It did not say whether the target was connected with the airport attack.
Residents of Jalalabad city, capital of Nangarhar, said they heard several explosions from an air strike around midnight on Friday though it was not clear if the blasts were caused by a U.S. drone.
The White House said the next few days are likely to be the most dangerous of the U.S. evacuation operation that the Pentagon said has taken about 111,000 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States believes there are still “specific, credible” threats against the airport after the bombing at one of its gates.
“We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts,” Kirby told reporters in Washington. “We’re monitoring these threats, very, very specifically, virtually in real time.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned Americans to avoid Kabul’s airport because of security threats and those at its gates should leave immediately.
U.S. and allied forces are racing to complete evacuations of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans and to withdraw from Afghanistan by the Tuesday deadline set by President Joe Biden after two decades of American military presence there.
While thousands have been evacuated, they are far outnumbered by those who could not get out.
Throngs of people have gathered outside the airport to try to get onto evacuation flights since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, although on Friday, Taliban guards stopped people from approaching.
Biden said earlier he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate that claimed responsibility for Thursday’s bombing.
Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate, known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) after an old name for the region, appeared in eastern Afghanistan in 2014 and later made inroads into other areas, particularly the north.
The group is an enemy of the Islamist Taliban as well as the West. The Pentagon said Thursday’s attack was carried out by one suicide bomber at an airport gate, not two as it had earlier stated.