The U.S. has struck back strike against an ISIS-K planner, about 48 hours after a deadly suicide attack killed 13 Americans and about 170 Afghans, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement Friday.
CENTCOM said the drone strike targeted an Islamic State member in Nangahar believed to be involved in planning the attacks against the U.S. in Kabul.
“U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan,” spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said.
“Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties,” Urban continued.
Unnamed Pentagon officials said the strike was authorized by President Biden and ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
CENTCOM’s statement came a day after President Joe Biden vowed to retaliate for the terrorist attack outside Kabul’s international airport even as he said the frantic mission to airlift Americans from Afghanistan would continue.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” the President said from the White House on Thursday.
ISIS in Khorasan, known as ISIS-K, has claimed that one of its militants carried out Thursday’s suicide attack. Although the group has provided no evidence to support the claim, American officials have corroborated it.
“We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing,” President Biden said. “Here’s what you need to know: These ISIS terrorists will not win.”
The Hellfire Missile Counters Terrorists’ Tactics
Two U.S. defense officials, who are familiar with the details of the drone strike, told NBC News that the target of the drone strike was an ISIS-K member thought to be involved in the planning of future attacks.
The unnamed ISIS-K planner was riding in a vehicle with another associate in an isolated area at the time of the strike. The defense officials said the strike was carried out by an MQ-9 Reaper drone in order to minimize any civilian casualties.
JSOC is increasingly using the specially designed non-explosive Hellfire missile when targeting terrorist leaders in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The missile is very effective against targets in light vehicles, such as cars or SUVs. It does not pose a threat to civilians due to its non-explosive nature.
It is officially designated as Hellfire AGM-114R9X — usually shortened to R9X and sometimes known as the “Flying Ginsu” or the “Ninja Bomb.”
The Hellfire was developed after terrorists adapted to U.S. airstrikes by hiding and traveling among the civilian population knowing that the United States was trying to limit collateral damage. It was first used in 2017.
The weapon uses the force of 100lb of dense material flying at speeds of about 1,000 miles per hour and its six attached blades, which deploy before impact, to crush and slice its victims.
About 5,000 troops remain in Afghanistan in order to finish the withdrawal of American and Afghan civilians from the country before the August 31 deadline. The U.S. has evacuated about 110,600 people since the end of July; nearly all of them were evacuated since August 14.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier Friday that the administration has been warned by its national security team that “another terror attack in Kabul is likely.”
“Because of security threats at the Kabul airport, we continue to advise U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates,” the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in an alert.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said earlier Friday that “there are approximately 500 American citizens we are currently working with who want to leave and with whom we are communicating directly to facilitate their evacuations.”