WASHINGTON — U.S. forces conducted a drone strike against an ISIS-K target in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, U.S. Central Command said, less than a day after President Joe Biden promised more retaliatory strikes against the affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group.
A CENTCOM spokesperson, Navy Capt. Bill Urban, said in a statement that the strike targeted a vehicle that posed "an imminent threat" to Hamid Karzai International Airport. Thirteen U.S. military personnel and more than 110 Afghans were killed in a suicide bombing outside the airport last week.
"We are confident we successfully hit the target," he said. "Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.
"We are assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, though we have no indications at this time. We remain vigilant for potential future threats," he added.
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Sunday evening, Urban added: “We are still assessing the results of this strike, which we know disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat to the airport. 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.
“We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life."
Less than 24 hours earlier, four days after the suicide bombing, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had again warned all Americans in the vicinity of the airport to leave immediately, citing a "specific, credible threat."
Biden promised more retaliatory strikes Saturday. "This strike was not the last," he said in a statement. "We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay."
The Taliban condemned the first U.S. drone strike, saying it was a direct violation of Afghanistan's sovereignty.
The U.S. is winding down a historic airlift that evacuated tens of thousands of people from the airport, the scene of much of the chaos that engulfed the capital since the Taliban took over two weeks ago.
A State Department memo obtained by NBC News showed that the evacuation of remaining U.S. diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan has begun, with two planes carrying government employees leaving the country. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. has also secured all locally employed staff members from the U.S. Embassy, processing the last three buses and evacuating 2,800 employees and family members, according to a cable.
Afghans working for the embassy had expressed a sense of betrayal and distrust in the U.S. government in the initial phases of the evacuation efforts, NBC News has reported, as they struggled to make it through the chaos and violence at the airport gates.
The Taliban threatened consequences, warning that any delay in the U.S. withdrawal would cross a "red line."
Meanwhile, more countries have wrapped up their evacuation operations, with America's key ally, the United Kingdom, confirming that its last military flight left Kabul on Saturday, ending nearly 20 years of British military presence in the country.
Courntey Kube and Mosheh Gains reported from Washington and Yuliya Talmazan from London.