U.S. drones targeted ISIS-K extremists in eastern Afghanistan on Friday, Pentagon officials said, in the first retaliation against the terrorist group a day after 13 American troops were killed and nearly 20 others wounded in an attack at the Kabul airport.
Military officials said the two individuals who were killed in the strike were “facilitators and planners” with ISIS-K. The strike reportedly hit a compound near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in the Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan.
Late Friday night, U.S. Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said that just one person had been killed in the attack. But on Saturday morning, Pentagon officials said that two ISIS-K members died in the strike and another was wounded.
“I can confirm as more information has come in that two high-profile ISIS targets were killed and one was wounded, and we know of zero civilian casualties,” Army Maj. Gen. William D. “Hank” Taylor told reporters at the Pentagon. “Without specifying any future plans, I will say we will continue to have the ability to defend ourselves and to leverage over-the-horizon capability to conduct counterterrorism operations as needed.”
The phrase “over the horizon” suggests that the U.S. launched the attack from outside Afghanistan, though officials would not say from which country the drone originated. Pentagon officials have routinely used that phrase in recent months when discussing how America will target terrorists in Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdrawal from the country is completed.
On Thursday, President Biden vowed to “hunt down” those responsible for the Kabul attack, which came as the U.S. frantically tries to evacuate the final American citizens and thousands more Afghan allies from the country before the White House’s self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline to leave.
Thursday’s attack saw an ISIS-K terrorist detonate an explosive at a Kabul airport gate. Gunmen then opened fire on forces guarding the facility. In addition to the American deaths, more than 100 Afghans died.
Administration officials have warned that additional ISIS-K attacks are likely as Aug. 31 approaches.
ISIS-K is the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State organization. While the group has just several thousand fighters in its ranks, it has built a reputation for well-planned, shockingly brutal acts of violence.
Last year, for example, ISIS-K gunmen stormed a maternity ward in a majority Shiite neighborhood in Kabul, killing at least 24 people, including newborn babies and their mothers.
The Taliban is operating security checkpoints outside the Kabul airport. But those checks failed to stop the ISIS-K bomber and gunmen from reaching the facility, where thousands of U.S. troops are still stationed to oversee the airlift.
Pentagon officials said that the threat remains very serious even though two key ISIS-K figures have been killed.
“We’re watching the threat stream very carefully,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Saturday. “Clearly they have the ability to operate inside Kabul. We’re mindful of that.”
The State Department late Friday issued another warning to U.S. citizens to stay away from sections of the Kabul airport, suggesting that another ISIS-K attack may be imminent.