KABUL: A US drone strike on Sunday hit a suicide bomber in a vehicle who was aiming to attack Kabul airport as US forces worked to complete a withdrawal that will end two decades of military involvement in Afghanistan, US officials said.
The strike was the second by the US military since an Islamic State suicide bomb just outside the airport on Thursday killed 13 US troops and scores of Afghan civilians. The airport has been the scene of a massive airlift by US and allied forces evacuating their citizens and Afghans desperate to leave a country since the Islamist Taliban took control two weeks ago.
Officials said the strike targeted suspected militants from ISIS-K, a local affiliate of Islamic State that is an enemy of both the West and of the Taliban movement that took over the capital on Aug. 15 after a lightning offensive.
One US official said it was carried out by an unmanned aircraft piloted from outside Afghanistan, and that secondary explosions following the strike showed the target had been carrying a substantial amount of explosives. Television footage showed black smoke rising into the sky.
US officials had said they were particularly concerned about the ISIS-K attacking the airport as American troops depart, in particular the threat from rockets and vehicle-borne explosives.
The drone strike took place while remaining civilians waited at the airport to be flown out before the last troops leave, a Western security official told Reuters. A US official told Reuters on Saturday that fewer than 4,000 troops remained.
The Taliban also said the explosion was caused by a US missile strike. "The vehicle and those inside it were killed in the drone strike," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
They had started their own investigations to determine whether it was really a suicide bomber driving a vehicle loaded with explosives, he said. President Joe Biden has said he will stick by his deadline to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by Tuesday. He had said on Saturday that his military chiefs had told him another militant attack was highly likely.