The United States hit back at the Islamic State on Friday, launching a series of drone strikes in eastern Afghanistan that killed a man believed to be the mastermind behind Thursday Kabul airport bombing. The U.S. Central Command said that the drone hit an ISIS-K member in Nangahar province and was approved by President Joe Biden.
"Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties," a U.S. military statement said. It did not say whether the target was connected with the airport attack. The strike comes less than 48 hours after the ISIS-K, the group also known as the Islamic State Khorasan, which took responsibility of Thursday's deadly attack that killed 170 Afghans and 13 American service members at the Kabul airport.
Following Biden's approval, Friday's strike was ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The drone was launched from an unknown location outside Afghanistan in an "over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation," Capt. Bill Urban of the Central Command said.
According to reports, the plan was to first eliminate the person who had planned the attack, which the Pentagon did successfully. Navy Capt. William Urban said that the American military "conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner."
It is still not clear how, the U.S. military located the target but the news was cheered by the top-ranking military officials. The strike took place less than 24 hours after Biden vowed to "not forgive" and "not forget" those responsible for the attack.
Biden had indicated at a possible attack after he said that he had ordered U.S. generals to plan retaliatory strikes on ISIS-K's key assets.
"We will hunt you down and make you pay," Biden said in remarks from the White House Thursday evening. "I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command."
Kabul on High Alert
Friday's retaliatory strike is definitely going to be a big jolt for the ISIS-K, an affiliate of militants who previously battled U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq. ISIS announced its expansion to the Khorasan region in 2015, which historically encompasses parts of modern day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
That said, Thursday's strike didn't come as a surprise to many as intelligence had repeatedly warned about such a threat as thousands rush to flee Afghanistan, after the Taliban seized power from the ruling government on August 15.
Biden has vowed to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by August 31, with thousands of people including Afghans trying to move out of the country.
On Friday, hours before the drone strike, a fresh alert was issued as intelligence agents fear that the Kabul airport could come under another attack. Even White House official acknowledged that Biden's national security team has warned him that another terror attack is "likely" before the August 31. The remaining U.S. troops are on high alert since then.