The US drone strike in Afghanistan targeted a mid-level “planner” from the local Islamic State branch who was traveling in a car with another person near the eastern city of Jalalabad, said on Saturday. from official US sources.
The strike came two days after the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing outside Kabul airport, as Western forces operating the bridge air force prepared for further attacks.
US President Joe Biden has vowed to hunt down those responsible by striking where and when he chooses.
The drone strike is probably intended in part to reassure a shaken American public that its government’s counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan remain intact despite the chaotic withdrawal.
There is no indication that the drone target was involved in Thursday’s blast, which killed around 180 people, including 13 US Marines.
The attack drew attention to ISKP, which was previously considered a minor player in Afghanistan and one of the weakest ISIS affiliates in the world.
The group was founded in 2014 by a few dozen disgruntled Taliban commanders and defectors from other militants in the region, and made early progress in districts near the border with Pakistan in the eastern province of Nangarhar, where the strike drone event took place around midnight Friday evening. The name Khorasan was given by medieval Islamic imperial rulers to an area comprising modern Afghanistan.
Major offensives by government forces and the United States inflicted heavy losses on the ISKP and forced them out of their strongholds in Nangarhar. Taliban fighters, who saw the ISKP as a threat to its campaign to take control of Afghanistan, also attacked the group’s enclave and in recent months have made a series of unsuccessful efforts to retake two valleys in the remote and rugged Kunar province. group.
In a report compiled from intelligence provided by member countries earlier this year, the UN said the ISKP had been reduced to 1,500 to 2,200 fighters in small areas of Kunar and Nangarhar provinces in the ‘east of Afghanistan, and consisted of “mostly cells … across the country, acting autonomously while sharing the same ideology.”
ISKP’s campaign of violence has escalated this year, targeting religious minorities, NGOs, journalists and Taliban officials. In recent months, ISKP commanders have been among the biggest clients of local arms dealers around Jalalabad, suggesting that some of its networks have survived.
On Friday, a senior Taliban commander in Jalalabad, Afghanistan’s fifth largest city, said some ISKP members were arrested in connection with the attack on Kabul.
“They are being questioned by our intelligence team,” the commander told Reuters.
The ISKP views the Taliban as apostates, accusing the new Afghan rulers of being “dirty nationalists” who have compromised their faith by negotiating with the United States and other international powers.
Many of the ISKP fighters come from outside Afghanistan, with a high proportion from Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This has led to internal divisions over strategy, with some factions prioritizing efforts to win rather than simply coercing local communities.
The US military said “early indications” suggested that the target of the drone strike, which was not identified, was killed and that there were no known civilian casualties.
However, a community elder in Jalalabad said three people were killed and four others injured in the airstrike around midnight on Friday, adding that he was summoned by the Taliban investigating the incident.
“Women and children are among the victims,” said Malik Adib, without however having any information on their identity.
Neither claim has been confirmed.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States believed there were still “specific and credible” threats to the airport after the bombing at one of its gates.
“We are certainly prepared and look forward to future attempts,” Kirby told reporters in Washington. “We monitor these threats, very, very specifically, virtually in real time. “
While Kabul airport has been in chaos, the rest of the city has been generally quiet. The Taliban have called on residents to hand over government equipment, including weapons and vehicles, within a week, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.