Friday’s US drone strike on the Islamic State in Afghanistan killed two of the terror group’s operatives, one more than expected, Pentagon officials said.
Major General William Taylor said that a “planner” and “facilitator” were dead following the operation.
Officials refused to identify the individuals by name, or say if whether they played specific roles in the suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport Thursday that killed 13 US service members and at least 169 Afghans.
“I’m not gonna talk about intelligence matters one way or the other,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
Kirby did characterize the two as confirmed operatives for Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, which took credit for Thursday’s deadly attack.
“They were ISIS-K planners and facilitators, and that’s enough reason there alone,” Kirby said. “The fact that two of these individuals are no longer walking on the face of the earth, that’s a good thing.”
Taking those two terrrorists out doesn’t change the dynamics of the evacuation operation, however. Kirby said the US is aware that ISIS-K still has the ability to operate in Kabul.
“The threats are still very real,” Kirby said. “They’re very dynamic, and we are monitoring them literally in real time.”
“We aren’t thinking for a minute that what happened yesterday gets us in the clear,” Kirby said. “Not a minute. But do we believe that we hit valid targets, bad guys who can do bad things and can plan bad missions? Absolutely. And do we think that that will have some impact on their ability going forward? Absolutely.”
Kirby said the bodies of the soldiers killed in the airport attack are on their way back to the US. He would not elaborate or say if President Joe Biden will meet the transport when it arrives.
Even as the US continues to process the people desperately trying to evacuate Afghanistan before Tuesday’s US deadline, some troops have started to leave Kabul, Kirby said. “The retrograde has begun,” he said of the 5,000 troops deployed there to conduct the evacuation.
Taylor said 32 US military flights and 34 allied flights got 6,800 people out of Kabul from Friday into Saturday, bringing the total number of evacuees over 117,000. Roughly 5,400 of those were American citizens, he said.
“This is an incredible number of people who are now safer thanks to the heroism of the young men and women who are putting their lives on the line each day to evacuate Americans and vulnerable Afghans out of Kabul,” Taylor said.
The US military still controls the airport, Taylor said. The Taliban has checkpoints set up in a “loose perimeter” around the airport but does not control the gates.
Flights are beginning to bring Afghan evacuees to US soil, including one coming from Italy to Philadelphia on Saturday. US military bases in several states are readying space for about 21,000 evacuees to be processed.