The US on Sunday launched airstrikes in Kabul against a vehicle possibly carrying “multiple suicide bombers” from the Islamic State’s local branch in Afghanistan — ISIS-K — who intended to target the airport, American officials said.
In another incident, a rocket hit a residential house in a neighbourhood in the Afghanistan capital, killing two civilians, including a child. It was not immediately known if the two incidents were connected as information on both remained scarce.
In an official statement, Captain Bill Urban, US Central Command spokesperson, said, “US military forces conducted a self-defense unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent ISIS-K threat to Hamid Karzai International airport.”
He added the explosions from the vehicle indicated the “presence of a substantial amount of explosive material". “We are confident we successfully hit the target. Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material. We are assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, though we have no indications at this time," he said.
This comes a day after US President Joe Biden vowed attacks against ISIS-K in response to the twin blasts that had rocked the Kabul airport on Thursday, killing over 180 people, including 13 US Marines. A massive foreign evacuation is currently underway in Kabul airport after Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban.
The Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility for the airport bombing, which was one of the worst in Afghanistan’s history. Since its inception seven years ago, the group has fought a long and hard fight with the Taliban under the moniker used by Muslim imperial rulers for a stretch of territory that includes modern-day Afghanistan.
Since the incident on Thursday, the Taliban and US soldiers have strengthened security around the airport. According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, Washington believes there are still “specific and credible” threats against the airport.
“We … would expect future attempts,” he said. “We’re monitoring these threats, very, very specifically, virtually in real time.”
According to analysts, the airlift by around 20 countries that has evacuated tens of thousands of people from Kabul’s airport since the Taliban took over two weeks ago is winding down, effectively establishing a deadline for extremists intending to assault an apparent target.
Britain completed its evacuation flights on Saturday, while US military supply planes maintained their trips on Sunday, ahead of Joe Biden’s deadline of August 31 to withdraw all troops from America’s longest conflict.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was working with other countries in the region to either keep the Kabul airport open after Tuesday or to reopen it “in a timely fashion.”
He also said that while the airport is critical, “there are other ways to leave Afghanistan, including by road and many countries border Afghanistan.” The U.S., he said, is “making sure that we have in place all of the necessary tools and means to facilitate the travel for those who seek to leave Afghanistan" after Tuesday.
The US president has threatened to track down those responsible for Thursday’s attack.
Last year, the US, Afghan government, and Taliban offensives drove the ISKP out of strongholds in Nangarhar’s eastern province. It has since reorganised, keeping some networks in eastern Afghanistan and building new ones in Kabul.
With inputs from the Associated Press, AFP.