• December 6, 2021

US attacks Islamic State in retaliation for Kabul bombing

The United States launched a retaliatory airstrike on Friday against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, held responsible for one of the deadliest days for US forces and Afghan civilians in the country’s 20-year war, killing a “planner.” Thursday’s attack at the airport.

Fulfilling President Biden’s promise to hunt down those responsible for Thursday’s attack and make them “pay,” the army used a drone to attack a militant in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, said the spokesman for the US Central Command, the Captain Bill Urban, in a statement.

“Initial indications are that we killed the target,” Urban said. “We do not know of civilian casualties.”

The attack followed the attack on the airport by an Islamic State affiliate known as ISIS-K, which killed 13 American service members and dozens of Afghan civilians, and came as the Biden administration warned of credible threats of additional terror attacks. The US embassy early Saturday morning, for the third time in as many days, warned Americans to avoid the gates of Kabul airport due to possible suicide or car bombs.

Biden had promised on the day of the suicide bombing that the United States would seek retaliation. “For 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. “

Ironically, the speed of the retaliation will cheer the Taliban as they consolidate their grip on Afghanistan. The Taliban are a longtime rival to ISIS-K, named after Khorasan, a former province that once included parts of Afghanistan.

The main Islamic State group had invaded much of Syria and Iraq before being pushed back by US forces in recent years. The ISIS-K bombing of the Kabul airport embarrassed the Taliban, who are trying to show that they can rule and maintain security.

The attack on the airport also underscored the fertile environment for terrorism that Afghanistan is likely to become once Western troops complete their withdrawal on Tuesday.

As it rushes to carry out final evacuations of the Americans and Afghan allies from Afghanistan, the US military is trying to piece together how Thursday’s suicide bomber penetrated security. The Pentagon previously said that it had determined that there was a suicide bomber and a single explosion, not two explosions, as it was first reported. The Pentagon blamed its erroneous initial report, that a second bomb had exploded near a hotel outside the airport, on the confusion surrounding the incident.

Due to the crowding of people at the entrance to the Kabul airport, the death toll was unusually high. Most of the 13 US servicemen killed were Marines, according to a Marine Corps spokesman. Hospital officials revised the Afghan civilian count to more than 150. The British government said three of its citizens, two adults and one child, were killed in the blast.

“There was clearly a disruption in the security process” established to monitor people arriving at the Kabul airport, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. Part of that process is in the hands of the Taliban, who control the perimeter of the airport. US military commanders have asked Taliban leaders to expand that perimeter to improve security, but it was unclear if they had done so.

Both the White House and the Pentagon said the window for evacuations was closing ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for the withdrawal of US troops. Psaki said he expects the number of evacuees to decrease. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said his office would no longer reveal the number of US troops in Kabul for security reasons.

At the White House briefing earlier Friday, Psaki was asked if Biden’s promise to make the terrorists “pay” meant he wanted to kill them or simply capture them. “He doesn’t want them to continue living on Earth,” she replied.

Both the White House, after a briefing by senior national security officials, and the Pentagon said another terrorist attack against the airport or US forces was “likely” based on “specific and credible” threats. “The next few days of this mission will be the most dangerous period to date,” said Psaki.

The State Department said it hoped to remove most of the US diplomats still in Kabul over the weekend and has not decided whether it will recognize a Taliban government. Spokesman Ned Price said Taliban leaders have asked the United States to maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, but that the administration wants to see if the Taliban fulfill their commitments to follow international rules on human rights, counterterrorism and other issues. ; There are doubts among Afghans and the international community that this is the case.

Price also said officials were in contact with about 500 US citizens who are still in Afghanistan and who want to leave. The US military has already airlifted 5,100 Americans, and “several hundred” US citizens have not decided whether to leave, he said. Price also said that the “vast majority” of Afghan US embassy staff, who in recent days complained of being abandoned, have been located, airlifted from Kabul or transported to the airport.

Since late July, US and NATO forces have airlifted more than 110,000 people out of Afghanistan, including 12,500 in the past 24 hours, fewer than in recent days, but thousands more Afghans are likely to be stranded. . Many are desperate to leave because their ties to the United States or Western entities, or their advocacy of Western values ​​like women’s rights, put them in the crosshairs of the Taliban.

General Glen VanHerck, who heads the US Northern Command, said that more than 7,000 Afghan refugees have moved to four US military bases in Texas, Florida, Wisconsin and North Carolina for temporary resettlement. He said there is now room for 20,000 in barracks and tents, and that homes are being added to eventually house 50,000. He said the army was providing medical care, religious services, three halal meals a day and a 24-hour “culturally appropriate fast food”.

Times staff writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.

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