The United States military on Friday killed an ISIS-K target in Afghanistan in a drone strike that marked the first retaliatory action following a terrorist attack at Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. service members and close to 200 Afghan civilians.
ISIS-K, also known as Islamic State-Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the Thursday bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
The bombing took place outside Abbey gate, a busy entrance at the airport where U.S. military was screening people being evacuated from Afghanistan since Kabul fell to Taliban rule on August 15. A second explosion near a hotel turned out to be a false alarm.
In a White House address on Thursday evening, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed revenge, saying, “We will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay.”
The air strike on Friday in the Nangahar Province of Afghanistan was a direct retaliation of the suicide bombing at Kabul airport.
Navy Captain Bill Urban, a U.S. military spokesman, said the the unmanned drone strike killed the ISIS-K target, described as “an ISIS-K planner.”
“Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties,” Urban said.
It was not clear whether that unidentified target was involved in planning the bombing at Kabul airport on Thursday, or was planning more attacks against U.S. and coalition forces as well as Afghan civilians.
But the White House said on Friday morning that President Biden’s national security team told him another terrorist attack was likely, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which is operating from the airport, later warned Americans of ongoing security threats at Kabul airport and urged them to “leave immediately.”
“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey gate, East gate, North gate or the New Ministry of Interior gate now should leave immediately,” the Embassy said in a brief statement.
“The President met this morning in the Situation Room with his national security team, including our commanders and diplomats in the field. The Vice President joined by secure video teleconference. They advised the President and Vice President that another terror attack in Kabul is likely, but that they are taking maximum force protection measures at the Kabul Airport,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
They reported that even in the face of those threats, our courageous service women and men are continuing to operate a historic evacuation operation, Psaki added.
“The U.S. military is airlifting out thousands of people every few hours. They continue to prioritize evacuating the remaining American citizens who have indicated that they wish to leave, and are engaged in a variety of means to get them to the airport safely,” she said.
Psaki said President Biden directed the Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to continue diplomatic efforts with international partners “to secure means for third-country nationals and Afghans with visas to leave the country even after the U.S. military presence ends.”
“Our commanders also updated the President and Vice President on plans to develop ISIS-K targets. The next few days of this mission will be the most dangerous period to date,” the Press Secretary wrote.
She said “President reaffirmed with the commanders his approval of all authorities they need to conduct the operation and protect our troops, and all reported back that they have the resources they believe they need to do so effectively.”
The President and Vice President were joined by Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, Director Haines, Director Burns, National Security Advisor Sullivan, Ambassador Wilson, General McKenzie, Admiral Vasely, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Finer, Homeland Security Advisor Sherwood-Randall, and other senior officials.
Inside the United States, the families of the 13 U.S. service members killed at Kabul airport were being informed. Their pictures and stories were already being shared on the social media. One was about to become a father in just a few weeks.