The United States military struck back at the Islamic State on Saturday, bombing an IS member in Afghanistan less than 48 hours after a devastating suicide bombing claimed by the group killed as many as 169 Afghans and 13 American service members at the Kabul airport.
U.S. Central Command said the U.S. conducted a drone strike against an Islamic State member in Nangahar believed to be involved in planning attacks against the U.S. in Kabul. The strike killed one individual and spokesman Navy Capt. William Urban said they knew of no civilian casualties.
“U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangahar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties,” Urban said in his statement.
Biden authorized the drone strike and it was ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet publicly announced.
It wasn’t clear if that individual was involved specifically in the Thursday suicide blast outside the gates of the Kabul airport, where crowds of Afghans were desperately trying to get in as part of the ongoing evacuation from the country after the Taliban’s rapid takeover.
Two U.S. defense officials familiar with the strike told NBC News that the target of the drone strike was riding in a vehicle with an associate at the time of the strike and that they were driving in an isolated area. The officials told NBC News the strike was carried out by an MQ-9 Reaper drone and munitions that were selected for precision and in order to minimize any civilian casualties.
The airstrike fulfilled a vow President Joe Biden made to the nation Thursday when he said the perpetrators of the attack would not be able to hide. “We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said. Pentagon leaders told reporters Friday that they were prepared for whatever retaliatory action the president ordered.
“We have options there right now,” said Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul also issued a new security alert advising citizens to avoid four airport gates.
“Because of security threats at the Kabul airport, we continue to advise U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates. U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey gate, East gate, North gate, or the New Ministry of Interior gate now should leave immediately.”
Biden was warned Friday that another terror attack in Kabul is “likely,” one day after the suicide bombing.
The stark warning from the president’s national security team came as the United States entered the final days of a months-long military withdrawal from Afghanistan, on track to meet Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for a full withdrawal.