The Taliban government has killed the alleged mastermind of a devastating suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport during the chaotic withdrawal of US forces in 2021, American media reported on Tuesday, citing US officials.
The bomber detonated among packed crowds at the airport’s perimeter as they tried to flee Afghanistan on August 26, 2021. The blast killed some 170 Afghans and 13 US troops who were securing the airport for the traumatic exit.
It was one of the deadliest bombings in Afghanistan in recent years, and prompted a wave of criticism of President Joe Biden for his decision to pull American forces out of the country nearly 20 years after the US invasion.
The leader of the Islamic State cell that planned the attack was killed by Taliban authorities in recent weeks, a senior US administration official told Politico on condition of anonymity.
The official told Politico that the United States had not been involved in the raid, and would not say when it took place or identify the alleged IS member killed, citing “sensitivities.”
But the official said that the target “was someone who remained a key plotter, an overseer of plotting for ISIS-K,” referring to Islamic State Khorasan, the branch of the group operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The official said US intelligence has been working to confirm the killing, and that the Biden administration has held off announcing it until the families of the 13 US troops could be told.
“We are not partnering with the Taliban, but we do think the outcome is a significant one,” the senior official told Politico.
The pullout, ending on August 30, 2021, saw Taliban fighters sweep aside Western-trained Afghan forces in just weeks, forcing the last US troops to mount the desperate evacuation from Kabul’s airport.
An unprecedented military airlift operation managed to get more than 120,000 people out of the country in a matter of days.
Biden has long defended his decision to leave Afghanistan, which critics have said helped cause the catastrophic collapse of Afghan forces and paved the way for the Taliban to return to power two decades after their first government was toppled.
Nothing “would have changed the trajectory” of the exit and “ultimately, President Biden refused to send another generation of Americans to fight a war that should have ended for the United States long ago,” the White House National Security Council said in a report to Congress earlier this month.
A recent Washington Post report citing leaked Pentagon documents said the US believes that since the withdrawal, Afghanistan is becoming a “staging ground” for the Islamic State group.
The Taliban and IS have long engaged in a turf war in Afghanistan, and experts have pointed to the jihadist group as the biggest security challenge for the new Afghan government going forward.