U.S. says drone strike killed 2 ISIS members, warns more attacks possible amid Afghan exit
Drone strike occurred in Nangarhar province in retaliation for suicide bombing at Kabul airport
The United States says two Islamic State militants were killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan overnight, in a retaliatory move that follows a deadly suicide bombing at the Kabul airport two days ago.
On Saturday, American officials warned of a high risk of further attacks by the group — enemies of both the West and Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers — as U.S. forces wind up their mission in Afghanistan before a Tuesday deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden.
The U.S. president said military commanders had told him an attack was highly likely in the next 24 to 36 hours. He said the situation on the ground remains "extremely dangerous."
After Thursday's blast that killed scores of Afghans and 13 American troops, the most lethal incident for U.S. service members in Afghanistan in a decade, Biden vowed to hunt down the perpetrators. He said Friday's strike was not the last.
"We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay," he said.
The Taliban condemned the overnight U.S. drone strike, which took place in Nangarhar province, an eastern area that borders Pakistan.
"The Americans should have informed us [Taliban] before conducting the air strike," a Taliban spokesperson told Reuters, adding that two women and a child were wounded in the attack. "It was a clear attack on Afghan territory."
The Taliban have said they have arrested some suspects involved in the airport blast.
Thursday's suicide blast, claimed by ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, caused a bloodbath outside the gates of the airport where thousands of Afghans have gathered to try to get a flight out since the Taliban returned to power.
The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 overthrew the then-ruling Taliban in punishment for harbouring the al-Qaeda militants behind the Sept. 11 attacks that year.
The Taliban, facing the loss of billions of dollars of aid for the country, appealed to the United States and other Western nations to maintain diplomatic relations after their withdrawal; Britain said that should only happen if the Taliban allow safe passage for those who want to leave and respect human rights.
The White House said the next few days were likely to be the most dangerous of the evacuation operation. The United States and allies have taken about 111,900 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks, the Pentagon has said.
Another attack likely
With another attack against the Kabul airport a near certainty, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned Americans to avoid the airport.
The last British flight evacuating civilians from Afghanistan left Kabul on Saturday.
British troops would take small numbers of Afghan citizens with them as they leave this weekend, a defence ministry spokesperson said. Armed forces chief Nick Carter said hundreds of people who had worked with Britain would not make it through.
Explosions heard in Jalalabad
In the Pentagon's strike on militant suspects in Nangarhar, a U.S. official said on Friday that an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft flown from the Middle East targeted an Islamic State militant who was planning attacks and was in a car with an associate.
Residents of Jalalabad, the provincial capital, said they had heard several explosions around midnight and community elder Malik Adib said three people were killed and four were wounded in an air strike. He said he had been summoned by the Taliban investigating the incident.
"Women and children are among the victims," said Adib, though he did not have information about their identity.
The U.S. military said in a statement that it knew of no civilian casualties.
While Kabul's airport has been in chaos, the rest of the city has been generally calm. The Taliban have told residents to hand over government equipment including weapons and vehicles within a week, spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said.
The airport attack added fuel to criticism Biden faced at home and abroad for the chaos after Afghanistan's government and military collapsed before a lightning Taliban advance.
He has defended his decisions, saying the United States long ago achieved its rationale for invading in 2001.