KABUL, Afghanistan —
The United States launched another drone strike Sunday, destroying a car loaded with explosives and suicide bombers heading for the international airport in Kabul, where U.S. troops are frantically trying to complete their evacuation of Afghanistan, military officials said.
” We are confident that we successfully hit our target,” stated U.S. Navy Captain. “Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material,” said U.S. Navy Capt. “Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”
The missile strike came after the U.S. warned of a “specific, credible threat” to the airport, the site of a horrific suicide bombing on Thursday — claimed by ISIS-K, Islamic State’s branch in the country. The attack resulted in the deaths of thirteen American servicemen and at least 170 Afghans. President Biden had warned that another attack on the airport was “highly likely in the next 24 to 36 hours.”
Reports also indicated that a rocket had struck a house in Khwaja Bughra, just a few miles from the airport. It wasn’t clear if the incidents were related. A video of the explosion site was posted to social media. It showed smoke rising from several buildings. Local media reported that the attack resulted in civilian casualties, including children.
Assessments were ongoing to see if there were civilian casualties from the drone strike, but Urban said there were no indications of that “at this time.”
The attack comes as American troops face a Tuesday U.S. self-imposed deadline to leave Afghanistan after the two-decade war to dislodge the Taliban. The U.S. has left Afghanistan with the Taliban seemingly stronger, America’s allies fleeing or hiding, and the country poised to return to some form of theocratic rule.
Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy is starved for dollars and may soon collapse, forcing the Taliban-run central bank to limit withdrawals to 10,000 afghani or $200 every 24 hours per customer. The result has been long lines in front of ATMs, with AK-47-toting Taliban fighters making sure matters don’t grow unruly.
On Sunday, what had been a steady cycle of aircraft landing, loading Afghans and foreign nationals and then taking off was markedly fewer, with only a few military C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft flying out of the airport throughout the day. The White House said Sunday that some 2,900 people were evacuated from Kabul in the last 24 hours — a sharp decrease from the some 20,000 evacuations per day at the airlift’s peak. About 114,400 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since Aug. 14. With the Americans having to reduce troop levels at the airport due to security concerns and the possibility of ISIS-K terrorist attacks, they have been forced to enter into a cordial, but apprehensive, working relationship with their former adversaries in Afghanistan.
That relationship has been on display in recent days, with U.S. commanders and turbaned Taliban fighters in shalwar kameez meeting for regular confabs over establishing security perimeters and ensuring crowds stay away from the airport so that there will be no repeat of Aug. 16, when thousands of desperate Afghans crowded the tarmac.
“They’re acting in their interest,” Biden said in a news conference after the ISIS-K attack on Thursday. It’s in their best interest that they leave when we say it and that as many people as possible .”
In the same news conference, the Central Command’s Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said that countering the Islamic State group included measures such as “reaching out to the Taliban, who are actually providing the outer security cordon and around the airfield to make sure they know what we expect them to do to protect us.”
“They’ve cut some of our security mitigates — some of our security concerns down. He said that they were a good partner to work with moving forward.
A day after Thursday’s bombing, Taliban set up roadblocks along roads leading to the airport to keep people from getting in.
Another example of that mutual self-interest in action occurred Sunday when Badr-Ul-Din, a 23-year-old Taliban emir — the group’s name for commanders — walked down a road running along a fence blocking off the runway. A few Americans were visible, including two mine-resistant armored vehicles hidden behind the ballistic glasses of a guard tower. A group of U.S. Rangers spotted him and demanded an interpreter. He eventually stopped at one of the guard towers.
Minutes later, a black SUV appeared from the American-controlled side of the airport and drove to a makeshift roadblock of pickup trucks and concertina wire, which marked the beginning of Taliban-controlled territory. The SUV was accompanied by a mustachioed, lanky interpreter, who kept his mask from slipping. A Glock pistol-wielding American official walked alongside the SUV. Badr-Ul-Din looked at them from the opposite side as the Ranger captain from Tower joined them.
After exchanging greetings, Badr-Ul-Din inquired when the Americans would depart and if they could move some concertina wire to ensure his fighters had security in the area. After acknowledging the “great work” done by the Taliban in keeping people at bay, the official promised that there would be forklifts stocked with gasoline and keys for Badr-Ul-Din’s fighters to remove any barriers.
“Don’t worry. There are plenty of usable vehicles for you in there,” he said, gesturing towards the runway, where a dark-gray C-17 Globemaster warmed up its engines.
Other instances of cooperation include military commanders from both sides co-ordinating the entry of Americans and Afghan officials for evacuation.
“There have been occasions when our military has contacted their military counterparts in the Taliban and said, ‘This’ — for example — ‘this bus is coming through with X number of people on it, made up of the following group of people. Biden stated, “We want you to allow that bus or that group through.” “And to the best of my knowledge, in those cases, the bulk of that has occurred — they’ve been let through.”
Yet the arrangement with the Taliban has been a tough pill to swallow domestically. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) joined the chorus of critics of the Biden administration by critiquing the evacuation plans on ABC’s Sunday show, “This Week.”
“People have died and people are going to die because President Biden decided to rely on happy talk instead of reality,” Sasse said. “So they decided to outsource security at the airport’s perimeter to the Taliban
Tensions were also common among the Taliban ranks.
After the discussion with Badr-Ul-Din was over, the official suggested that they shake hands across the concertina-wire barrier.
“I do not shake hands with foreigners,” Badr-Ul-Din said, as he walked away from the barrier to return to his group.
Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this report.