WASHINGTON – A US military drone attack blew up a vehicle laden with explosives in Kabul on Sunday, Defense Department officials said hours after President Biden warned that another terrorist attack on the Afghan capital’s airport was “very likely” .
The strike, which took place two days before the deadline for Mr Biden’s withdrawal from the country, removed an imminent threat to Hamid Karzai International Airport from the Khorasan Islamic State group, a US Central Command spokesman said. The group claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the airport on Thursday, in which 13 American soldiers and up to 170 civilians were killed.
The spokesman, Captain Bill Urban, said Central Command was aware of reports of civilian casualties following Sunday’s strike.
“We know that there was significant and powerful follow-up explosions as a result of the destruction of the vehicle, suggesting a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional losses,” he said. “It is unclear what might have happened and we are investigating further.”
He added: “We would be deeply saddened by the possible loss of innocent people.”
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said civilians were killed in the attack and a house was attacked. “We are investigating the reason for the air strike and the exact number of victims,” he said.
The attack followed a reprisal Friday for the suicide bombing, which was among the deadliest in nearly two decades since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Earlier on Sunday the US embassy in Kabul said there was a “specific, credible threat” to the airport site. State Department officials have issued several similar warnings in the past few days.
A US official said the military launched anti-missile system rockets Monday after five were aimed at Kabul airport. There were no initial reports of victims and the airport remained open, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details.
Aug. 30, 2021, 8:29 p.m. ET
As American forces complete their withdrawal, the Pentagon has shifted its focus from screening and airlifting Afghan and American civilians to getting its personnel home. At the same time, US intelligence sources are refining destinations for possible drone attacks on suspected Islamic State fighters, particularly suicide bombers who want to attack the airport.
Sunday’s attack, carried out by an MQ-9 Reaper drone from a base in the United Arab Emirates, showed the extent to which US intelligence agencies have refined their target list, defense officials said. A Hellfire missile fired from the Reaper hit the vehicle about two miles from the airport, a military official said.
Based on the secondary explosions after the drone attack, the military estimated one to three people with explosive vests in the vehicle. There may be other explosives in the car that made it a vehicle-borne bomb in itself, two defense officials said.
Understanding the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the unrest following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputation and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here is more about their genesis and track record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who for years have been on the run, in hiding, in prison and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they say they are.
What is happening to the women of Afghanistan? When the Taliban was last in power, they banned women and girls from most jobs or from going to school. Afghan women have gained a lot since the Taliban was overthrown, but now they fear that they are losing ground. Taliban officials are trying to reassure women that things will be different, but there are indications that they have begun to reintroduce the old order in at least some areas.
In the past 24 hours, the US has evacuated approximately 2,000 people in military transport aircraft, including more than 100 American citizens. The military found that around 250 Americans were still in Kabul who had expressed a wish to leave the country.
Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor, said in a speech on Fox News Sunday that the number of American citizens in Kabul could be close to 300. “There are some people who have chosen not to go so far and that is their right,” “he said.
“You will not be stuck in Afghanistan,” added Sullivan after Tuesday. “We’ll make sure we have a mechanism to get them out of the country in case they decide to come home in the future.”
Military officials said they had no evidence that Mr Biden would ask the military to stay beyond Tuesday to get more Americans or vulnerable Afghans out of the country.
However, Sunday’s drone attack showed how dangerous the last two days of America’s 20 Years War would be, Defense officials admitted. The attack follows Friday’s attack on a vehicle in Nangarhar province near the Pakistani border that Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said killed two “senior” Islamic State fighters – one as ” Planner ”and one as a“ mediator ”.