Joe Biden, the president of the United States, has promised further strikes against the ISIL (ISIS) group’s affiliate in Afghanistan in retaliation for a deadly suicide bombing on Thursday outside Kabul airport and warned that the situation on the ground continued to be “extremely dangerous” with another attack “highly likely” in the coming hours.
“This strike was not the last. We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay,” Biden said in a statement on Saturday.
“Our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours. I directed them to take every possible measure to prioritize force protection.”
A suicide bombing at Kabul airport on Thursday – claimed by Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) – killed at least 175 people, including 13 US soldiers.
The Pentagon said earlier on Saturday that a US air strike in Afghanistan killed two high-profile ISKP targets and left another wounded.
No civilians were hurt in the US attack early on Saturday, Major General Hank Taylor told a news conference.
The Pentagon declined to say if the people targeted in the US attack were directly involved in the suicide bombing.
“They were ISIS-K planners and facilitators. That’s enough reason there alone,” said spokesman John Kirby. “The fact that two of these individuals are no longer walking on the face of the Earth, that’s a good thing.”
The Taliban condemned the US drone strike on ISKP members, with a spokesman describing the operation as a “clear attack on Afghan territory”.
Zabihullah Mujahid also told Reuters news agency on Saturday that the Taliban expected to take full control of Kabul airport very shortly, once US forces leave, and would announce a full cabinet in the coming days.
Thursday’s blast, which targeted throngs of Afghans gathered outside the airport in hopes of fleeing the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, opened a deadly new chapter in the drama unfolding as the frantic US evacuation drive approaches its Tuesday deadline for completion.
More than 5,000 people remained inside Kabul airport awaiting evacuation on Saturday.
There are no longer crowds of thousands around the airport’s perimeter hoping to be let through and allowed onto a plane as the Taliban has sealed off roads leading to the airport and is only letting sanctioned buses pass.
“We have lists from the Americans … if your name is on the list, you can come through,” one Taliban official told the AFP news agency near the civilian passenger terminal.
The carnage of Thursday injected further stress and tension into a situation already fraught with panic and despair for those wanting to leave and high risk for the US forces tasked with securing the operation.
On Friday, the Pentagon corrected its initial report that there had been suicide bombings at two locations. It said there was just one – at or near the Abbey Gate – followed by gunfire. The initial report of a second bombing at the nearby Baron Hotel proved to be false, Taylor said.
The bombing followed a chorus of warnings about an imminent threat and, as people gathered outside the airport on Saturday, the US issued a fresh alert for its citizens to leave areas around the main gates “immediately”.
At the White House on Friday, President Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki said US national security experts consider another attack is “likely” and the next few days will be “the most dangerous period to date”.