The US military has killed one of the planners of the deadly suicide bombing attack at Kabul airport in a retaliatory airstrike that was carried out in a mountainous region of Afghanistan, the US said.
The attack came at a time when US and allied forces have been racing to complete evacuations of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans and withdraw by the Tuesday deadline set by President Joe Biden after 20 of American military presence in Afghanistan.
Thursday’s suicide blast, claimed by the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, showed the peril of the mission, causing a bloodbath just outside the airport where thousands of Afghans have gathered to try to get a flight out since the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15.
A New York Times reports says that at the Kabul airport, there were indications on Saturday that the evacuation effort was steadily slowing.
Roads leading to the airport were closed, and the large crowds that had strained in recent days to push inside had largely dissipated in the aftermath of Thursday’s suicide bombing.
At the Abbey Gate, near where the bombing occurred, only two families and two young men were still waiting on Saturday. Few people, if any, were getting through the airport gates.
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are thought to be seeking an escape from the country, fearing Taliban rule, but Biden and other global leaders have acknowledged that many will not get out before the deadline.
US troops were screening Afghans at the Abbey Gate when the suicide bomber detonated on Thursday, killing 13 US troops and as many as 170 other people, one of the deadliest attacks during the US military presence in Afghanistan.
The US military said on Friday that it had launched a retaliatory airstrike in Nangarhar Province, east of Kabul.
Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the US Central Command, said in a statement that the airstrike had targeted an “ISIS-K planner.” He was referring to the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, also known as Islamic State Khorasan, which has claimed responsibility for the airport attack.
“Initial indications are that we killed the target,” Captain Urban said. “We know of no civilian casualties.”
An assistant to the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Saturday in response to the US airstrike: “We have heard the reports about the Nangarhar incident, but we are trying to find the type of the incident and the casualties. After an investigation, we will react to that.”
In Kabul, Britain was ending its evacuation program on Saturday. Britain’s evacuation of citizens will end on Saturday, and the country will begin bringing its remaining troops home, General Nick Carter, the chief of the defence staff, told the BBC’s Radio 4. France, too, has ended its evacuations, French officials said on Friday.
Because of the continuing security threat, US officials are again warning Americans to leave the airport area. American officials believe that “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday. “The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.”
Civilian evacuations on chartered planes had halted since the attack. Private security companies and aid groups have told Afghans to remain in safe houses and avoid the airport as they plan to shift to evacuations by chartered buses through land crossings over the border with Pakistan, according to several people involved in the efforts.