President Biden said Thursday that he’s ordered operational plans for strikes on ISIS-K “assets, leadership, and facilities” in Afghanistan in response to the suicide bombings at the Kabul airport that killed at least 13 US troops and 60 Afghans.
ISIS took responsibility for the airport attack, and ISIS-K is the group’s Afghanistan affiliate. Leading up to the blasts, US officials were warning of potential ISIS-K attacks on the vulnerable crowds outside of the airport walls.
“We will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said of those responsible for the attack. “We will respond with force and precision at our time and the place we choose and a moment of our choosing.”
ISIS-K is known to be based out of the northeast provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar. Estimates from three years ago said the group had between 1,500 and 2,200 fighters, but current numbers are unclear. Over the past few years, the Taliban has fought against ISIS-K and diminished their numbers. In some cases, the Taliban had the help of US air support.
The US still has plenty of airpower at the Kabul airport, so airstrikes are an option for Biden. But with the nature of a group like ISIS-K, there are probably no “facilities” to bomb, and airstrikes would likely result in civilian casualties.
Biden also vowed to complete the evacuation from the Kabul airport and said the attack would not deter the mission. Since the airlift began on August 14th, over 95,000 people have been evacuated from Kabul. Between early Wednesday and Thursday, about 13,400 people were airlifted out.