The US military said Friday night that it had launched its first reprisal strike for the devastating suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport the day before, using a drone to target and apparently kill a planner for the group that claimed responsibility for the deaths of as many as 170 civilians and 13 US service members.
“US military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for US Central Command, said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State group affiliate in Afghanistan, also known as Islamic State Khorasan.
“The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan,” Urban said. “Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties.”
The attack at the airport Thursday was one of the deadliest bombings in the nearly two decades since the US-led invasion. US officials believe “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Friday afternoon. “The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.”
On Friday night, the US Embassy again warned Americans to leave the airport immediately because of security threats.
While it was unclear how many Americans had risked the trip to the airport Friday, the dangers of another terrorist strike did not keep away Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban.
Hundreds of them continued to crowd Kabul’s airport Friday, even as the death toll from the previous day’s blast neared 200 with hundreds more wounded, keeping the city’s hospitals grimly busy all day.
The size of the crowd at the airport did drop sharply, however, with fear paring the numbers down to hundreds from the thousands of previous days. The suicide bombing ripped right into the jostling throng Thursday afternoon.
The attack also killed 13 US service members, and one of the first to be identified was Rylee McCollum, 20, a Marine who had been on his first overseas deployment, according to his father. He was one of 10 Marines, two soldiers, and one Navy medic killed in the attack, according to defense officials.
On Friday, the Pentagon changed its earlier statement that there were possibly two suicide blasts set off at the airport by ISIS-K, instead saying it was just one.
[This article originally appeared in The New York Times.]