US drone strike targets IS 'planner' in Afghanistan

Washington tells citizens to leave Kabul Airport gates 'immediately'

By: AFP      Published: 07:39 AM, 28 Aug, 2021
US drone strike targets IS 'planner' in Afghanistan
Afghan refugees board a bus after arriving at Dulles International Airport in Virginia after being evacuated from Kabul.–AFP

The US military said Friday it had carried out a drone strike against a "planner" of the Islamic State-Khorasan, the group which claimed credit for the deadly suicide bombing at Kabul airport.

"The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target," said Captain Bill Urban of the Central Command.

"We know of no civilian casualties," he added in a statement announcing the first reported US strike since the attack.

The strike, launched from outside of Afghanistan, came as the airlift of evacuees from Kabul airport continued under much-heightened security after Thursday's attack.

At least 78 people were killed, including 13 US troops, when a suicide attacker exploded a bomb in the dense crowd in front of the airport's Abbey Gate. Some media reported that fatalities numbered close to 200.

US officials said gunmen opened fire after the explosion, adding to the carnage.

The attack was carried out by the violent Afghan arm of the Islamic State group.

Following the attack US President Joe Biden vowed retaliation.

"To those who carried out this attack as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay," Biden said Thursday.

On Friday afternoon Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said they believe the group planned to strike the airlift again.

"We still believe there are credible threats... specific, credible threats," he said.

Warning to citizens

The United States urged its citizens Friday to "immediately" leave the gates around Kabul's airport, where a suicide bomber this week targeted crowds trying to flee Taliban rule.

Earlier Friday, the Pentagon said that the high-risk Kabul airlift operation to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies still faced "specific, credible threats".

"US citizens who are at the Abbey gate, East gate, North gate or the New Ministry of Interior gate now should leave immediately," the US Embassy in Kabul said in a security alert.

"Because of security threats at the Kabul airport, we continue to advise US citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates," the embassy said.

The alert gave no further details on what the security threats might be, but it followed Thursday's attack that killed scores of people including 13 US servicemen.

No quick recognition of Taliban govt: White House

The United States on Friday dismissed any chance of rapid recognition for a Taliban government and said it has not decided yet whether it will maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan after next week's troop withdrawal.

"I want to be really clear: there's no rush to recognition of any sort by the United States or any international partners we have talked to," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

The United States has said recognition of any future Taliban regime would be contingent on it not allowing Afghan territory to be used as a base for terrorism and respect for human rights, particularly those of women. 

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Taliban have asked that the United States keep a diplomatic presence in the country after the remaining US troops are pulled out on Tuesday.

"They have made very clear to us in our communication they would like to see an American diplomatic presence remain," Price said. "Ultimately, of course, it's not up to the Taliban.

"It's a determination that we will need to make consistent with the overriding prerogative and that is the safety and security of American officials," he said.

He said the Taliban have pledged to provide "safety and protection" but those are just "words" and Washington will need further assurances before making any decision.

After the Taliban takeover of Kabul on August 15, the remaining diplomats from the US embassy fled to the US-secured airport in the capital.

The United States has been in close contact with its former enemy as it tries to complete the risky operation of evacuating tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan at the end of a 20-year war.

France ends its air evacuations

France ended its evacuations from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan late Friday, officials said, one day after a suicide bombing left scenes of carnage outside Kabul airport.

The airlift had to be stopped because "the security conditions were no longer being met at the airport", Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly said in the wake of Thursday's attack, which killed scores of Afghan civilians and 13 US troops.

In a statement, the ministers blamed the lack of security on the "rapid disengagement of the American forces".

Separately, Parly tweeted that the French forces had managed to fly around 3,000 people out of Afghanistan before their airlift operation was halted.

"In less than two weeks, the French military has brought some 3,000 people to safety, including more than 2,600 Afghans," she tweeted.

The French embassy team in Kabul has reached Abu Dhabi and from there will fly home to France, the ministers said.

France has called for setting up humanitarian operations to assist the thousands of Afghan nationals who failed to get a flight out to leave by other means.

"Our efforts continue," the two ministers said.

A French delegation met Thursday with Taliban representatives with the talks centring on the situation at the Kabul airport and the airlift operations, the ministers said.