The U.S. military launched a drone strike against ISIS-K in retaliation for the deadly bombing at the Kabul airport, the Pentagon said Friday.
Just before the Pentagon announced the strike, the State Department issued a fresh alert, telling Americans at four Kabul airport gates to “leave immediately.”
Earlier Friday, the Pentagon warned that specific, credible terrorist threats from ISIS-K to U.S. troops and civilians fleeing Afghanistan after Thursday’s devastating Kabul airport attack, which killed 13 American service members and at least 169 Afghan civilians.
President Joe Biden has vowed retaliation against ISIS-K. “We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said hours after Thursday’s bombing at the Kabul airport.
Details also began emerging on the 13 service members killed in Thursday’s bombing near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, at least some of whom were only babies and toddlers on September 11, 2001. Evacuations of Americans and their allies restarted, an effort to get out as many civilians ahead of the military’s withdrawal, just four days away.
A military strike Friday targeted an ISIS-K planner in a drone attack, the first American attack on the terrorist group following Thursday’s bomb attack in Kabul, the Pentagon announced.
“U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner,” Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a Central Command spokesman, said in a statement. “The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangahar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties.”
The planner, who military officials believe was involved in planning future attacks, was killed while traveling in a vehicle with an associate, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the attack.
ISIS-K leadership generally operates in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces in Afghanistan.
Urban’s reference to an unmanned airstrike indicates that the attack was conducted by a drone. On Thursday, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command, said the military has been operating MQ-9 Reaper drones in Kabul for surveillance. Those unmanned planes are also armed with Hellfire missiles that can blast targets. The drones can also carry smart bombs.
The former military intelligence chief for Central Command, retired Maj. Gen. Mark Quantock, said late Friday that more attacks on ISIS-K leaders are likely if the military can “lock in the targets.”
The White House referred to the Department of Defense for comment.
The U.S. military strike announced on Friday evening came around the same time the U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a fresh warning urging Americans waiting at airport gates to “leave immediately” because of security threats.
The embassy’s warning said any U.S. citizens waiting to be evacuated at four of the airport gates should clear the area immediately.
The security alert came a day after more than 160 Afghans and 13 American military personnel were killed in a suicide attack – and as the U.S. targeted the Islamic State terrorist group in Afghanistan in retaliation for that deadly bombing.
The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs tweeted: “Due to security threats at the airport, we continue to advise U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates. Those at Abbey gate, East gate, North gate or New Ministry of Interior gate should leave immediately.”
A State Department spokesperson said the agency would not address intelligence matters but noted the “dynamic and volatile security situation on the ground” in Afghanistan.
The spokesman said the State Department has “no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens.”
Earlier on Friday, the agency’s chief spokesman, Ned Price, said the U.S. has evacuated more than 5,000 U.S. citizens from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, when the Taliban effectively took control of the country. In all, the U.S. has evacuated more than 100,000 people from the country in the last two weeks, he said, including scores of Afghans who worked for U.S. embassy in Kabul.
That evacuation campaign has gained new urgency as the Biden administration rushes to complete its withdrawal by Aug. 31. Thousands of Afghans are also desperately seeking to flee their homeland, in including many who worked with the U.S. military as interpreters or in other roles during the 20-year war.
A U.S. Army staff sergeant from Tennessee on his second deployment to Afghanistan was killed Thursday in a suicide bombing near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, his family announced Friday..
Ryan Knauss was among 13 American service members who died in the attack blamed on the terrorist group ISIS-K, an offshoot of ISIS based in Afghanistan. Initial reports said the slain Americans were all Marines with the exception of a Navy corpsman, making the news of his death “quite a shock” to his family, his grandmother Evelena Knauss told The Daily Beast.
“We were led to think that it was 12 Marines and one Navy, and we knew our grandson was in the Army,” Knauss said. “So we were praying for the families of the Marines, not knowing our grandson was one of the ones who lost his life… You just don’t think it will be yours.”
–Knoxville News Sentinel
California Marine Kareem Nikoui, 20, killed in Kabul airport bombing: ‘His memory will live on forever’
Friends and family are mourning the death of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Mae’Lee Grant Nikoui, a California native who was one of 13 American service members killed Thursday in an explosion in Afghanistan.
In a statement, the city of Norco said Nikoui graduated from Norco High School in 2019 after joining JROTC, and then became a Marine. Norco is about 30 miles south of San Bernardino and about 50 miles southeast of Los Angles. City officials in a statement said Nikoui’s name will be engraved on the “Lest We Forget Wall” at the George A. Ingalls Veterans Memorial Plaza.
“The City of Norco respectfully salutes the service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Kabul, Afghanistan, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time,” the statement said, adding that Nikoui “was committed to serving his country and is survived by his mother, father and siblings.”
California Marine Hunter Lopez, 22, son of sheriff’s department parents, killed in Kabul airport attack
A California Marine was among the 13 U.S. service members killed during a bomb attack near the international airport in Kabul on Thursday, according to the Riverside Sheriff’s Association.
Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, was from a family with deep roots in the Coachella Valley. He is the son of two Riverside County Sheriff’s Department employees.
“We are heartbroken to hear this sad news about Hunter, who chose to follow a life of service, selflessness, courage and sacrifice, like his parents,” the news release reads.
The sheriff’s association said Lopez was a Riverside Sheriff’s Explorer Scout with the Palm Desert Station from Sept. 2014 to Aug. 2017. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines and was planning on joining the sheriff’s department when he returned from deployment, according to the release.
–Christopher Damien and Sherry Barkas
Texas Marine David Lee Espinoza, 20, lauded for ‘courage and bravery,’ killed in Kabul airport attack
A 20-year-old Marine from Laredo, Texas, was among the 13 American troops and more than a hundred Afghans killed in a suicide bombing Thursday near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, local officials said Friday.
The City of Laredo identified David Lee Espinoza as one of the U.S. service members killed in the attack in the capital of Kabul.
“Thank you for your service to the United States of America and Laredo. Your acts of courage and bravery will always be remembered in our community,” the City of Laredo said in a statement.
Several hundred American citizens in Afghanistan still haven’t decided whether they want to leave despite an “ongoing aggressive outreach campaign” and the fast-approaching withdrawal deadline for US forces of August 31, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday.
Price told reporters that since August 14 – the day before Kabul fell to the Taliban – at least 5,100 American citizens have been evacuated, including 300 in the previous 24 hours.
“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,” Price said. “We are communicating with several hundred American citizens who have not yet determined whether they want to leave for various reasons.”
–Donovan Slack and Dennis Wagner
The White House released updated information Friday on the number of evacuees from Afghanistan.
According to a pool report, from 3 a.m. EDT August 27 to 3 p.m. EDT, about 4,200 people were evacuated from Kabul.
“This is the result of 12 U.S. military flights (9 C-17s and 3 C-130s) which carried approximately 2,100 evacuees, and 29 coalition flights which carried approximately 2,100 people.”
“Since August 14, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 109,200 people. Since the end of July, we have re-located approximately 114,800 people,” the pool report noted.
Republican lawmakers universally rushed to condemn Joe Biden’s handling of Afghanistan following Thursday’s bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members while demanding his administration keep troops in the increasingly unstable country past Tuesday’s deadline to ensure the safe evacuation of all remaining Americans.
But the GOP is less unified on how the president should be punished and what to do about the Afghan refugees coming to the U.S. and those whose lives are in danger because they helped American troops as interpreters and in other roles during the 20-year conflict.
The tragedy of the Kabul bombing has given GOP officials an opening to spotlight what they see as the rampant failings of a president whose approval ratings are declining but still slightly on the net positive side thanks to legislative wins on COVID relief and infrastructure.
A Marine from the St. Louis area was among the 13 American service members and more than a hundred Afghans killed in a suicide bombing Thursday near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, according to the man’s father and a U.S. senator.
Jared Schmitz, 20, of Wentzville, Missouri, was among the dead, his father, Mark Schmitz told the radio station KMOX.
“This has just been absolutely devastating,” Schmitz told the station Friday.
An Ohio Navy hospital corpsman is among the 13 Americans and scores of Afghans killed in a suicide bombing Thursday near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, a school district confirmed Friday.
The Edison Local School District said Max Soviak, a 2017 graduate of Edison High School in Milan, was killed in the attack.
“It is with deepest sorrow that I am sharing this news,” Superintendent Thomas Roth said in a statement. “Max was a good student who was active in sports and other activities throughout his school career. He was well respected and liked by everyone who knew him. Max was full of life in everything he did.”
–Craig Shoup and Grace Hauck
A Marine and expectant father from Wyoming was among the 13 American troopskilled in a suicide bombing Thursday near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, Wyoming state officials said Friday.
Rylee McCollum of Bondurant was among the dead, officials said.
“I’m devastated to learn Wyoming lost one of our own in yesterday’s terrorist attack in Kabul,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a statement thanking McCollum for his service.
McCollum was a 2019 graduate of Jackson Hole High School, according to a statement from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.
Some of the tens of thousands of Afghans evacuated by the United States amid the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan will begin arriving as early as next week in Arizona, and refugee resettlement organizations are scrambling to find them housing.
The timing makes the housing hunt even more difficult, because affordable apartments have become increasingly hard to find.
The exact number of Afghans who will be arriving in Arizona is unknown but could be in the dozens, with increasing numbers arriving in the coming weeks, said Aaron Rippenkroeger, executive director for the International Rescue Committee in Arizona. The organization resettles refugees in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. has no plans to keep a diplomatic presence on the ground in Afghanistan after Aug. 31, the deadline set by President Joe Biden to withdraw all U.S. troops.
“We are pulling our presence out by the 31st and that has not changed,” Psaki told reporters during a press briefing. “We don’t trust the Taliban. It’s not about trust but there is a reality on the ground. And the reality is the Taliban control large swaths of Afghanistan.”
Psaki was responding to a Washington Post report that the Taliban had requested the U.S. maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan following the withdrawal, which could include reopening the embassy U.S. forces quickly shuttered as the Afghan government collapsed earlier this month.
She said the U.S. is coordinating with the Taliban “by necessity” and would continue to work with them to evacuate Americans, third country nationals and Afghans with visas who are unable to leave before U.S. military presence ends.
“A part of that would certainly be having a coordinated approach and engagement with the Taliban,” she said. “That does not mean or translate to presence on the ground.”
U.S. officials warned Friday that the remaining days before the Aug. 31 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will be the “most dangerous” stretch of the mission yet and called another terrorist attack in Kabul “likely.”
During a morning meeting with his national security team, Biden was told that “another terror attack in Kabul is likely, but that they are taking maximum force protection measures at the Kabul Airport,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
U.S. commanders also updated Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who joined via teleconference, on plans to develop ISIS-K targets, according to Psaki.
“The next few days of this mission will be the most dangerous period to date,” she said.
The U.S. is continuing the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies still in Afghanistan even after Thursday’s terror attack.
An ISIS-K suicide bomber and multiple ISIS-K gunmen killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 169 Afghan civilians in the attack at the Kabul airport.
Biden vowed Thursday the U.S. will “hunt down” the terrorists who are responsible and said the U.S. will ensure the evacuation of all Americans who want to leave Afghanistan.
– Joey Garrison
Biden says U.S. service members died for a ‘worthy mission’
President Joe Biden commended the “bravery and sacrifice” of the U.S military Friday, calling the deaths of 13 U.S. service members in the Kabul terrorist attack “tragic” and saying they died for a “worthy mission.”
“Our mission there being performed is dangerous, and it has now come with a significant loss of American personnel,” Biden said in the Oval Office Friday afternoon before meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “That was a worthy mission because they continue to evacuate people out of the airport.”
Biden noted that more than 12,000 people have been evacuated in the last 24 hours.
Biden declined to take any questions about Afghanistan, citing Bennett’s presence
– Joey Garrison
Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban, tweeted Friday morning that, “There is no impediment from the Islamic Emirate to carrying out their work.”
Earlier in the week, it was widely reported that Mujahid at a press conference told women to stay at home out of concern that fighters for the fundamentalist group needed additional training on how to guarantee their safety.
– Katie Wadington
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday the U.S. doesn’t know the exact number of ISIS-K prisoners who were freed by the Taliban as they seized prisons from Afghan forces but said “clearly it’s in the thousands.”
Kirby was referring to two prisons, including one at the Bagram Airfield, which the U.S. handed over to Afghan security forces in July. The prison was emptied before the Taliban seized control of Kabul.
Asked why U.S. forces didn’t relocate ISIS-K prisoners to somewhere else before the drawdown, Kirby said Afghan forces were responsible for those bases in accordance with a retrograde plan established in April.
“We didn’t see the level of resistance by the Afghans to hold some territory, some bases and unfortunately, those were bases that the Afghans, didn’t hold,” he said.
– Courtney Subramanian
The Pentagon said “specific, credible threats” remain at the Kabul airport one day after a suicide bombing and gun attack from ISIS-K killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 169 Afghan civilians.
“We still believe there are credible threats,” Defense Department press secretary John Kirby said. “In fact, I would say specific, credible threats.”
Kirby defended the military’s efforts to protect troops ahead of the attack, but said, “Clearly, all of that effort – and there was a lot of effort – fell short in some way.”
He said the military plans to conduct an investigation to determine what went wrong. “It will be a very complete, thorough investigation,” Kirby said.
– Joey Garrison
The Pentagon said Friday that 5,400 people are awaiting to depart Afghanistan, after thousands were evacuated from the country in the last 24 hours.
Maj. Gen. William Taylor said that 12,500 people were evacuated from Kabul in the past 24 hours. He noted that 300 Americans were evacuated in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of Americans airlifted to about 5,100.
“We continue to maximize our efficiency,” Taylor said. “And since U.S. and coalition forces began the evacuation, approximately 111,000 evacuees have departed safely.”
– Rebecca Morin
The U.S. no longer believes there were two bombings in Thursday’s terrorist attack at the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. service members, the Pentagon said Friday.
Maj. Gen. William Taylor said the Pentagon now believes there was only one suicide bombing during the attack that occurred at the Abbey Gate of the airport. He said there was not a suicide bombing near the Baron Hotel as the military initially reported.
He said he doesn’t know how it was misreported but pointed to the chaos after the attack.
“We thought it was important to correct the record,” he said.
– Joey Garrison
Some congressional Democrats called for evacuations to continue after an explosion near the airport in Kabul killed 13 U.S. military members and at least 169 Afghans as Republicans ramped up their criticism of President Joe Biden’s handling of the exit.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the U.S. still needed to evacuate every American who wants to leave the country along with allied partners and Afghans who aided U.S. efforts in the country.
Others said the U.S. needed to bring to justice those responsible for the attack.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., questioned relying on the Taliban.
“As we wait for more details to come in, one thing is clear: We can’t trust the Taliban with Americans’ security,” the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a prepared statement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Congress shared bipartisan concerns about the “security and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan,” and called on the Biden Administration to continue briefing members.
Republicans, though, lobbed demands for widespread resignations at administration officials, including Biden, over its handling of the withdrawal.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called on Pelosi to reconvene Congress before the Aug. 31 deadline so that it could stop the withdrawal until every American was evacuated.
“Horrific,” he tweeted after the blast. “Our enemies have taken advantage of the chaotic nature of Biden’s withdrawal.”
– Rick Rouan
Senior Biden officials are expected to brief senators Friday afternoon on the latest developments regarding Afghanistan.
The briefing will take place by phone at 1 p.m., according to a Senate aide.
Lawmakers have been seeking answers in the wake of a suicide bombing at Kabul airport Thursday that killed 11 U.S. Marines, a Navy hospital corpsman, and another service member whose branch was not immediately identified, American officials said. At least 18 U.S. service members were injured.
“This attack is a painful reminder of the danger that our brave troops and our diplomats face in helping thousands of American citizens and allies escape,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
– Ledyard King
The death toll from Thursday’s bombings has increased sharply, to at least 169 Afghan people, according to the Associated Press on Friday morning. CBS News reported it at 170, according to an Afghan health official.
The blasts also killed 13 U.S. service members and wounded another 18 American military members.
– Katie Wadington
On day of bombings, over 12K evacuated
The White House on Friday morning released the latest numbers on of Kabul airport evacuations. From about noon Thursday to noon Friday, Afghanistan time, approximately 12,500 people were evacuated. They left the country on 35 U.S. military flights, carrying 8,500 people, and 54 coalition flights, holding 4,000 people.
Evacuations resumed Thursday following the ISIS-K blasts outside the airport that killed dozens of people.
That brings the total evacuated by the U.S. directly or with U.S. help to 105,000 people in the last 13 days.
– Katie Wadington
Former President Barack Obama offered his condolences to the families of service members killed Thursday in bombings in Afghanistan, saying he and former first lady Michelle Obama are “heartbroken.”
“As president, nothing was more painful than grieving with the loved ones of Americans who gave their lives serving our country,” Obama said. “As President Biden said, these service members are heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others. Our hearts go out to the families who lost a loved one, and to everyone continuing the mission in Kabul.”
Obama also expressed his sympathy for families of Afghans killed, “many of whom stood by America and were willing to risk everything for a chance at a better life.”
– Katie Wadington
The World Health Organization has a presence in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces but said Friday that its medical supplies are dwindling.
Amid the takeover of the Taliban and the COVID-19 pandemic, there are only a few days worth of supplies left, said Dr. Rick Brennan, a regional WHO director, told a UN press briefing Friday in Geneva. The WHO is looking for ways to bring more supplies into the country, as the Kabul airport isn’t an option.
Brennan said the situation in Afghanistan is volatile, made worse by Thursday’s ISIS-K attack.
– Katie Wadington
LONDON — The U.K.’s defense chief promised Friday to “get to the bottom of” a security lapse that saw documents identifying Afghan staff members and job applicants left behind at the abandoned British Embassy in Kabul.
Times of London reporter Anthony Loyd said he found the papers scattered on the ground as he toured Kabul’s abandoned diplomatic district with a Taliban escort this week.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said “clearly it’s not good enough” that the documents were left unsecured. He said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “will be asking some questions” about what had happened.
– Associated Press
The scene at the airport is one of panic and chaos as U.S. forces continue evacuation procedures. Those injured in the attack were wheeled away, bloodied and dazed, on stretchers — even in wheelbarrows — by volunteers. The air above the airfield was thick was smoke as sirens filled the air after the blast.
A video on Twitter appeared to show bodies floating in a canal and piled on a sidewalk near an entrance to the airport.
“It was as if someone pulled the ground from under my feet; for a moment I thought my eardrums were blasted, and I lost my sense of hearing,” the man, who was not identified for fear of reprisal, told Insider. “It is not possible to see doomsday in this life, but today I saw doomsday, I witnessed it with my own eyes.”
Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said about 5,000 people were waiting at the airfield to be flown out of the country and evacuations would not slow following the attack.
About 1,000 U.S. citizens are believed to still be in Afghanistan. Heavy security and roadblocks set up by the Taliban make accessing the airport a challenge. And entry is nearly impossible now that U.S. forces have closed all gates due to the attack.
– Chelsey Cox
KABUL, Afghanistan — Evacuation flights from Afghanistan resumed with new urgency on Friday, a day after bombings targeted the thousands of desperate people fleeing the Taliban takeover and killed more than 100. The U.S. warned more attacks could come ahead of the Tuesday deadline for foreign troops to leave, ending America’s longest war.
As the call to prayer echoed Friday through Kabul along with the roar of departing planes, the anxious crowds outside the city’s airport appeared as large as ever despite the risks. They are acutely aware that the window is closing to board a flight before the airlift ends and Western troops withdraw.
Dozens of Taliban members carrying heavy weapons patrolled one area about 1,600 feet from the airport to prevent anyone from venturing beyond.
Thursday’s bombings near Kabul’s international airport killed at least 95 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops, Afghan and U.S. officials said.
Afghan officials warned that the true toll could be higher, with morgues stretched to capacity and the possibility that relatives are taking bodies away from the scene. One official said as many as 115 may have died. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
At least 10 bodies lay on the grounds outside Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, where relatives said the mortuary could take no more. Afghans said many of the dead are unclaimed because family members are travelling from distant provinces.
– Associated Press