The United States conducted an airstrike Sunday against a vehicle that posed a threat to the Kabul airport, following U.S. warnings of an imminent attack in the area.
“U.S. military forces conducted a self-defense unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent ISIS-K [Islamic State Khorasan] threat to Hamad Karzai International airport,” said Capt. Bill Urban, CENTCOM spokesperson. “We are confident we successfully hit the target. Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”
Islamic State Khorasan had claimed responsibility for a suicide attack outside the airport that killed at least 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members last Thursday. A U.S. airstrike last Friday killed two members of the terror group.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul had urged U.S. citizens to leave the vicinity of the airport, citing a specific and credible threat. U.S. President Joe Biden Saturday said another attack was likely within the next 24- to 36 hours. Warnings of additional attacks come as the U.S. and its allies wind down an evacuation of their citizens and Afghans fleeing the Taliban.
“This is the most dangerous time in an already extraordinarily dangerous mission, these last couple of days,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
Republican U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, also on ABC, criticized the Biden administration’s evacuation plan.
“There is clearly no plan. There has been no plan. Their plan has basically been happy talk,” he said. Sasse also said people have died and people are going to die “because President Biden decided to rely on happy talk instead of reality.”
The White House says about 2,900 people were evacuated from Kabul in a 12-hour period that ended at 3 a.m. EDT Sunday. It says that since August 14, the U.S. has evacuated or helped evacuate more than 114,000 people.
Blinken said in an interview on CNN that about 300 American citizens are seeking evacuation from Afghanistan.
Separately, a U.S. airstrike Friday night against the Islamic State Afghan affiliate group — retaliation for Thursday’s attack — resulted in the deaths of two important members of the group, the U.S. Defense Department said Saturday.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told Fox News Sunday that President Biden “will stop at nothing” to make the terror group pay for last week’s attack.
Biden on Saturday said the airstrike was “not the last” and that the U.S. will “continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay.”
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid reportedly denounced the airstrike, saying it was a “clear attack on Afghan territory,” according to the Reuters news agency. He also reportedly said the Taliban expects to take full control of the airport when U.S. forces complete their pullout from the country, scheduled for Tuesday.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at a briefing Saturday that threats against the airport “are still very real, they’re very dynamic, and we are monitoring them literally in real time. And, as I said yesterday, we are taking all the means necessary to make sure we remain focused on that threat stream and doing what we can for force protection.”
The security threats have made the evacuation of Americans and some Afghans more difficult.
“There doesn’t appear to be any concerted effort to get SIVs [Special Immigrant Visa holders] out at this point,” a State Department official told VOA from the airport. But the department is still trying to evacuate local embassy staff, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
The U.S. evacuation of Afghans at the airport has wound down significantly, with most of the remaining 100 American civilian government staffers set to leave before midnight, according to a State Department official who spoke with VOA Saturday on the condition of anonymity.
The airport terminals are mostly empty, said the official, who expressed mixed feelings about the operation.
“I feel the frustration of the failure of the operation overall,” said the official, who described the decision-making process of getting Afghans evacuated as “chaotic” and “subjective.”
“But I’m extremely proud of the work of the guys on the ground, just the kind of bare-knuckled diplomacy of getting to know the Afghans, even though some of us didn’t know the language,” the official said.
VOA White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.