The United States carried out a defensive airstrike in the Afghan capital, Kabul, targeting a suspected ISIS-K suicide bomber who posed an “imminent” threat to the airport, US Central Command said Sunday.

The US military acknowledged later Sunday that there are reports of civilian casualties following the strike. “We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties. It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further,” Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for US Central Command, said in a statement.

“We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life,” he added.

The statement followed CNN’s reporting that nine members of one family, including six children, were killed in the drone strike, according to a brother of one of those killed, who spoke to a local journalist working with CNN. US Central Command said earlier they were assessing the possibility of civilian casualties.

US forces have been racing to complete their evacuation operation before Tuesday’s deadline and under the threat of a new terror attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

A suicide bombing outside the airport gates on Thursday killed 13 US service members and at least 170 others.

Sunday’s drone strike on a vehicle is the second by US forces targeting the ISIS-K terror group in the space of three days. A US official confirmed the location of the strike as being in Kabul’s Khaje Bughra neighborhood.

Smoke rises after an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday.
Smoke rises after an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday.


US President Joe Biden said Saturday that military commanders had advised that “another terrorist attack on Kabul’s airport is “highly likely in the next 24-36 hours,” and the US Embassy in Kabul warned all US citizens to leave the airport area immediately.

The White House said Sunday morning that about 2,900 people were evacuated from Kabul from 3 a.m. ET Saturday to 3 a.m. ET Sunday. Those evacuations were carried out by 32 US military flights and nine coalition flights.

The mission is clearly winding down, with fewer people brought out than during the same time period on preceding days.

Biden traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday to mourn with the families of the 13 US service members killed in Thursday’s attack as their bodies were brought back to US soil.

ISIS in Khorasan, known as ISIS-K, has claimed that an ISIS militant carried out the suicide attack, but provided no evidence to support the claim. US officials have said the group was likely behind the bombing.

On Saturday, the Pentagon said two “high profile” ISIS targets had been killed and another injured in a US drone strike late Friday in Jalalabad, in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, in a retaliatory strike for Thursday’s attack.

Vulnerable people left behind

After a desperate, two-week effort to evacuate their citizens and Afghan allies from the country following the Taliban’s seizure of power, Western governments now face the challenge of how to deal with an Islamist militant group they’ve spent the past two decades fighting.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he intends, alongside the United Kingdom, to submit a resolution to an emergency session of the UN Security Council (UNSC) that would focus on the creation of a “safe zone” in Kabul for Afghans leaving the country.

“Our draft resolution aims to define, under UN protection, a safe zone in Kabul that would allow humanitarian operations to continue,” Macron told French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, adding that he intends to “maintain pressure on the Taliban” in doing so. The UNSC session is due to convene Monday.

Florence, a Frenchwoman living in a suburb of Paris, believed her Afghan husband of 18 years would fly out of Kabul to safety on Thursday.

But the airport suicide bombing left him stranded in the Afghan capital. France wrapped up its evacuation mission on Friday — leaving Florence, whose last name CNN is not using for safety reasons, terrified for her husband’s fate.

“My husband is completely lost, he’s stressed, he’s scared, he doesn’t know which way he’ll come back to France. Now he’s thinking maybe to take the road,” Florence said.

Her husband is just one of potentially thousands of people still in Afghanistan who fear their lives could be in danger under Taliban rule, both Afghans and other nationalities.

US: ‘We will use leverage’ in dealings with Taliban

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the Biden administration was committed to a “safe passage” of Americans and Afghans who helped the US government after the withdrawal deadline.

“August 31 is not a cliff. After August 31, we believe that we have substantial leverage to hold the Taliban to its commitments to allow safe passage for American citizens, legal permanent residents and the Afghan allies who have travel documentation to come to the United States,” Sullivan told CNN.

“We will use that leverage to the maximum extent and we will work with the rest of the international community to make sure the Taliban does not falter on these commitments.”

Roughly 250 Americans who are attempting to leave Afghanistan remain in the country, according to new figures from a US State Department spokesperson. About 50 evacuations have taken place in the past day, bringing the total number of American citizens evacuated to 5,500.

The US State Department, along with governments from numerous other countries, released a statement Sunday saying they would hold the Taliban to their promises that they would allow people to leave the country after August 31.

“We will continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans, and we have the clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that they can travel to our respective countries,” the statement said.

Smoke rises from explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday, August 26, 2021.
Smoke rises from explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday, August 26, 2021.


Wife: ‘They will kill him’

For those at risk in Kabul and elsewhere, the picture appears bleak.
Florence’s husband was in Afghanistan for his father’s funeral and had been due to fly out on a commercial flight on August 22.

Despite having a French residency permit and being on the French foreign ministry’s passenger list for evacuation, he never made it past US forces guarding the airport gates in Kabul, she said.

He is terrified at what will befall his country under Taliban rule.

“It’s horrible when you go back to the same conditions than 20 years ago because when you don’t know, you are just living the moment but when you know exactly who these people are, what will happen to you, it’s much more terrible,” she said.

Her husband also fears for his own safety, as being found in possession of the French documents that could give him a way out represents a massive danger in itself.

“It’s already a huge problem, if they understand that he is married to a French citizen, there is not one minute of his life still, there is not one minute of his life possible anymore, they will kill him,” Florence said.

Johnson: ‘We will use every lever we have’

Britain concluded its own evacuation mission from Afghanistan on Saturday, with its last remaining diplomatic staff pulled out alongside military forces.

While nearly 15,000 people were brought to safety, according to the UK ambassador to Kabul, the head of the UK’s armed forces, Gen. Nick Carter, told the BBC that people eligible be brought out numbering in the “high hundreds” had been left behind.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Sunday that diplomatic recognition of the Taliban as Afghanistan’s “new regime” would be dependent on the organization’s actions, stressing that Britain would “engage with the Taliban not on the basis of what they say, but what they do.”

“If the new regime in Kabul wants diplomatic recognition, or to unlock the billions that are currently frozen, they will have to ensure safe passage for those who wish to leave the country, to respect the rights of women and girls, and to prevent Afghanistan from, again, becoming an incubator for global terror,” Johnson said.

“We will use every lever we have — political, economic, diplomatic — to help the people of Afghanistan and to protect our own country from harm,” he added. The UK embassy will now relocate to Doha, Qatar.

Johnson added that the UK government would increase its development assistance to Afghanistan to £286 million (about $394 million).

At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was following the situation in Afghanistan “with great concern” as he delivered his Angelus Prayer, and thanked those working for peace and to help people in need.

As reported by CNN