The United States is investigating reports of civilian casualties in Kabul after a U.S. drone strike blew up a vehicle carrying “multiple suicide bombers” from the ISIS-K terrorist group on Sunday, an official said.
The U.S.-led counter-terrorism drone attack may have caused “additional casualties” as well as the two ISIS terrorists it targeted, Captain Bill Urban, a Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesperson, said in a statement late on Sunday.
“We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul,” said Urban.
The reports are being looked into by the United States, Urban said, noting that while the drone strike disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat to Kabul’s international airport, “We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life.”
“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,” he added. “It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further.”
The Pentagon earlier said that two “high-profile” ISIS-K terrorist group members were killed in Friday’s drone strike, and another was wounded.
“They lost a planner and they lost a facilitator and they’ve got one wounded. And the fact that two of these individuals are no longer walking on the face of the earth, that’s a good thing,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a press briefing.
“It’s a good thing for the people of Afghanistan. It’s a good thing for our troops and our forces at that airfield. And I think I’m just going to leave it at that,” he continued.
Friday’s drone strike came shortly after the Kabul airport attack that killed 13 U.S. service members and over 100 Afghans. ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate, claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 attack, bragging about a suicide bomber “managing to penetrate all the security fortifications” put into place by U.S. forces and the Taliban.
Founded in 2015, ISIS-K is a sworn enemy of the Taliban and the United States. It had been quiet since Kabul was taken over by the terrorist group on Aug. 15, raising concerns that it had been plotting a large-scale attack.
ISIS deems the Taliban’s rule to be insufficiently Islamic, and believes the terrorist group prides themselves for their focus on global, not local, jihad.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said that it was conducting a “Taliban investigation” into the attacks.
Meanwhile, Amrullah Saleh, who says he is Afghanistan’s acting president according to its constitution, has claimed that the Taliban were behind the blasts.
“Every evidence we have in hand shows that [ISIS-K terrorist] cells have their roots in Talibs [Taliban] & Haqqani network particularly the ones operating in Kabul,” Saleh posted to Twitter a day after the deadly blast.
“We knew from two or three days ago that the Taliban wanted to end the airport disaster with a series of bombings,” he told Euronews on Aug. 26. “They spread the word that ISIL wanted to carry out bombings. The Taliban is behind today’s [Thursday’s] bombing,” he claimed.
Taliban involvement in the attack also hasn’t been ruled out by the United States. Kirby said on Aug. 27 that U.S. officials were unsure if the Taliban were involved.
Melanie Sun contributed to this report.