The United States says it just thwarted another ISIS-K attack targeting Kabul airport, just three days after a suicide bombing killed hundreds at the same site. The U.S. said it carried out a second drone strike in Afghanistan on Sunday, destroying a vehicle in Kabul that military officials said was carrying “multiple” ISIS-K suicide bombers.
The drone strike killed at least ten civilians, including children. U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the American military's Central Command, said it was carried out in “self-defence,” as scores of people gathered at Hamid Karzai International Airport in the desperate hope of escaping Taliban-occupied Afghanistan on an evacuation flight.
“We are confident we successfully hit the target,” he said, adding the military was “aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul.
“We are still assessing the results of this strike, which we know disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat to the airport. We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties. It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further.”
“We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life.”
It was the second U.S. drone attack in Afghanistan since a bombing carried out by members of ISIS-K—an Afghan offshoot of the Islamic State group—killed 13 U.S. troops and 169 Afghan civilians near Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday.
The first reprisal strike took place on Friday night in the country’s northeastern province of Nangarhar, where ISIS-K have historically had a presence. It killed two Islamic State militants, a “planner” and a “facilitator,” who were driving in a car in the city of Jalalabad, and wounded another who was in a nearby building, according to a U.S. military official. It is not confirmed whether any of the militants were involved in planning the Kabul airport attack.
The drone strike on Sunday was carried out in a residential area of Kabul, and celebrated by U.S. military officials as having successfully thwarted a second terrorist attack on Hamid Karzai airport, where many Afghans were waiting to be evacuated on flights.
But civilians were also killed. VICE World News spoke to a man who said 10 members of his family were killed in the strike. He said six of them had been unrecognisable, and were completely burnt that it was difficult to find anything from them to bury. The four other corpses from members of the same family were taken to the hospital and were being prepared for burial on Monday.
CNN reported that six of those who died were children. A brother of one of the deceased told a CNN reporter that the children were aged 3, 4, 9 and 10, and that two 2-year-olds were also killed. He said that they were an “ordinary family.”
“We are not ISIS ... and this was a family home – where my brothers lived with their families,” he said. Another witness who said he was a neighbour of the family told CNN that “All the neighbours tried to help and brought water to put out the fire and I saw that there were 5 or 6 people dead. The father of the family and another young boy and there were two children. They were dead. They were in pieces. There were [also] two wounded.”
The Taliban said they had started their own investigations into the U.S. strike, and were looking at whether the target was really a suicide bomber driving a vehicle loaded with explosives, Reuters reported.
Sunday’s drone strike followed warnings from President Joe Biden on Saturday that another militant attack was highly likely, as U.S. troops began leaving Kabul ahead of the August 31 withdrawal deadline. The airport has become a target for acts of terrorism and violence over the past week as the last troops, allies and civilians are evacuated out of Afghanistan and America brings a close to its 20-year campaign in the country.
The threats are ongoing. An Afghan police chief reported that a rocket hit a neighbourhood northwest of the airport on Sunday afternoon, killing a child, in what the Taliban claimed was a separate incident to the U.S. drone strike. No group immediately claimed responsibility for that attack.
A U.S. official also told ABC News that as many as five rockets were fired toward the airport on Monday morning, according to the news organisation’s Pentagon reporter.
Experts predict that attacks on the Afghan populace will continue even after Western forces have completed their withdrawal, however, as ISIS-K – a sworn enemy of the Taliban – attempts to destabilise the country and disrupt the implementations of a new government.
Following the bombing of Kabul airport on Friday, Lydia Khalil, a researcher at the Lowy Institute who specialises in Middle East politics, international terrorism and extremism, told VICE World News: “There’s going to be more terrorism attacks. There’ll be more terrorism attacks targeting Afghan civilians, [and] there’ll be more terrorism attacks targeting the Taliban security forces as they attempt to consolidate control.”
Update: This story has been updated to include information obtained from a family member of the victims.
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