KABUL (Dispatches) -- The United States claimed it attacked a Daesh “planner” in Afghanistan in retaliation for a deadly bombing outside Kabul airport and said there was a high risk of further blasts as it winds up its mission to evacuate its civilians and withdraw troops.
A U.S. official said on Saturday the target of its alleged overnight drone strike was not believed to be a senior Daesh militant, and did not rule out future action against the group.
U.S. and allied forces have been racing to complete the evacuations and withdraw by the Tuesday deadline set by President Joe Biden after two decades of American military presence in Afghanistan.
As of Saturday, there were fewer than 4,000 U.S. troops at Kabul airport, the U.S. official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters, down from 5,800 at the peak of the evacuation mission.
Thursday’s suicide blast, claimed by Daesh-K, the Afghan affiliate of the takfiri group, caused a bloodbath outside the gates of the airport where thousands of Afghans have gathered to try to get a flight out since the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15.
The attack killed scores of Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, the most lethal incident for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a decade.
President Joe Biden promised on Thursday that Washington would go after the perpetrators, and U.S. Central Command said the drone strike took place overnight in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul and bordering Pakistan.
“Initial indications are that we killed the target,” a U.S. military statement said.
Reacting to Biden’s comments, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova raised the question whether the U.S. is aware about the location of leadership and facilities of Daesh.
“So, the U.S. knew where the ISIS (Daesh) leadership and facilities were?!” Zakharova wrote on her Telegram channel.
Last month, Zakharova revealed collaboration in Afghanistan between U.S. and NATO forces and Daesh terrorists, specifically pointing to the use of unmarked supply helicopters in Daesh-infiltrated areas where the country’s air space remains under the complete control of the U.S.-led forces.
Spokesmen for the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan as U.S. forces withdrew, did not comment on the drone strike.
The Taliban are enemies of Daesh and have said they have arrested some suspects involved in Thursday’s airport blast.
The White House said the next few days were likely to be the most dangerous of the evacuation operation. The United States and allies have taken about 111,900 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks, the Pentagon has said.
U.S. officials said another attack against the Kabul airport was a near certainty, and there were fears that it could be more destructive than Thursday’s attack. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned Americans to avoid the airport and said those at its gates should leave immediately.
U.S. media, including the New York Times, cited health officials saying Thursday’s blast had killed up to 170 people, not including the U.S. troops.
Most of the more than 20 allied countries involved in airlifting their citizens and Afghans out of Kabul said they had completed evacuations by Friday.
A U.S. official said a reaper drone flown from the Middle East struck a Daesh militant who was planning attacks and was in a car with an associate. Both are believed to have been killed, the official claimed, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In Jalalabad, community elder Malik Adib said three people were killed and four were wounded in the airstrike, adding that he had been summoned by the Taliban investigating the incident.
“Women and children are among the victims,” said Adib, though he did not have information about their identity. The U.S. military statement said: “We know of no civilian casualties.”
While Kabul’s airport has been in chaos, the rest of the city has been generally calm. The Taliban have told residents to hand over government equipment including weapons and vehicles within a week, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Daesh began establishing a presence in Afghanistan almost a year after making sweeping land grabs in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Former President Hamid Karzai was the most ranking Afghan official to announce first that the U.S. was colluding with Daesh in Afghanistan and allowing the takfiri group to flourish in the war-stricken country.
In a televised speech on Friday, Hezbollah head Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah pointed to former U.S. president Donald Trump’s repeated assertion that Daesh had been created by Hillary Clinton and his predecessor Barack Obama.
Nasrallah said Daesh has ended its mission in Iraq and Syria and now has been brought to Afghanistan by the U.S.