Acting swiftly on Joe Biden’s promise to retaliate for the deadly suicide bombing at Kabul airport, the US military said it used a drone strike to kill a member of the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate Saturday.
The strike came amid what the White House called indications that IS planned to strike again as the US-led evacuation from Kabul airport moved into its final days.
Biden has set Tuesday as his deadline for completing the exit.
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.
The airstrike was launched from beyond Afghanistan less than 48 hours after the devastating Kabul attack that killed 13 Americans and scores of Afghans with just days left in a final US withdrawal after 20 years of war. US Central Command provided few details; it said it believed its strike killed no civilians.
The speed with which the US military retaliated reflected its close monitoring of IS and years of experience in targeting extremists in remote parts of the world. But it also shows the limits of US power to eliminate extremist threats, which some believe will have more freedom of movement in Afghanistan now that the Taliban is in power.
Central Command said the drone strike was conducted in Nangahar province against an IS member believed to be involved in planning attacks against the United States in Kabul. The strike killed one individual, spokesman Navy Capt William Urban said.
It was not clear if the targeted individual was involved directly 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.
The airstrike came after Biden declared Thursday that 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.
More details soon …