- Drone strike in Pakistan border province
- Jalalabad city residents say they heard explosions at night
- U.S. Embassy Says People Should Leave Airport Gates Immediately
- Around 111,000 people evacuated
- Britain to end evacuation on Saturday
Aug.28 (Reuters) – The United States launched a drone strike in Afghanistan, apparently killing an Islamic State “planner” after the group claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing outside Kabul airport , as the Western forces leading the airlift prepared for further attacks.
Among the 92 killed in Thursday’s suicide bombing, claimed by the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, were 13 US servicemen, the deadliest incident for US troops in Afghanistan in a decade.
“The first indications are that we have killed the target. We do not know of any civilian casualties,” the US military said in a statement, referring to the drone strike overnight.
The US central command said the strike took place in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul and on the border with Pakistan. He did not say whether the target was linked to the airport attack.
Residents of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, said on Saturday they heard several explosions during an airstrike around midnight, although it is not clear whether the blasts were caused by a US drone.
The White House has said the next few days will likely be the most dangerous in the US evacuation operation, which the Pentagon says has brought about 111,000 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States believed there were still “specific and credible” threats to the airport after the bombing at one of its gates.
“We are certainly prepared and look forward to future attempts,” Kirby told reporters in Washington. “We are monitoring these threats, very, very specifically, virtually in real time.”
The United States Embassy in Kabul has warned Americans to avoid Kabul Airport due to security threats and those at its gates should leave immediately.
US and Allied forces rushed to complete evacuations of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans and to withdraw from Afghanistan before Tuesday’s deadline set by President Joe Biden after two decades of US military presence there.
Most of the more than 20 allied countries involved in airlifting Afghans and their citizens out of Kabul said they completed the evacuations on Friday.
Britain will end its operation on Saturday, its armed forces chief said, while acknowledging that she, like other countries, had failed to get everyone out.
Crowds of people have gathered outside the airport in an attempt to board evacuation flights since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan on August 15, although Taliban guards on Friday barred people from s ‘approach.
Biden said earlier he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate who claimed responsibility for Thursday’s bombing.
The branch of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, known as the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) after an old name in the region, emerged in eastern Afghanistan in 2014 and subsequently made inroads into other regions, particularly the north.
The group is an enemy of the Islamist Taliban as well as of the West. The Pentagon said Thursday’s attack was carried out by a suicide bomber at an airport gate, not two as it had said earlier.
Explosions IN JALALABAD
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the drone strike was against an Islamic State activist who was planning attacks.
A mower drone, which took off from the Middle East, struck the activist who was in a car with an Islamic State associate. Both were reportedly killed, the official said.
In Jalalabad, community elder Malik Adib said three people were killed and four others injured in the airstrike around midnight on Friday, adding that he was summoned by the Taliban investigating the incident.
“Women and children are among the victims,” Adib said, although he has no information on their identities.
A senior Taliban commander said some ISIS operatives were arrested in connection with the attack on Kabul. “They are being questioned by our intelligence team,” said the commander.
The number of Afghans killed in the airport bombing rose to 79, a hospital official told Reuters on Friday, adding that more than 120 were injured. Some media have reported a death toll of up to 170.
While Kabul airport has been in chaos, the rest of the city has been generally quiet. The Taliban have called on residents to hand over government equipment, including weapons and vehicles, within a week, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Biden was already facing criticism at home and abroad for the chaos surrounding the troop withdrawal and evacuations. As the Taliban advanced rapidly towards Kabul amid the withdrawal, the West-backed Afghan government and army collapsed. Biden defended his decisions, saying the United States had long reached its justification for invading the country in 2001.
The US-led invasion overthrew the then-ruling Taliban, punishing them for harboring Al Qaeda militants who organized the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The Taliban have said Afghans with valid documents will be able to travel freely in the future – comments aimed at allaying fears they are planning severe restrictions.
But the people left behind face a “catastrophic” humanitarian situation, according to UN officials, and up to half a million Afghans could flee their homelands by the end of the year.
Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Robert Birsel; Editing by William Mallard and Gerry Doyle
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