US Reaper air strike in Afghanistan kills two ISIS-K members

An air strike using a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was carried out by the US military on August 28, targeting ISIS-K militants in Afghanistan.

The strike took place in Nangarhar Province to the east of Kandahar, killing two high-profile individuals who were known to be responsible for planning and facilitating terrorist activities within the organisation. A third ISIS-K member was wounded in the attack. The mission was partly in retaliation for the suicide bomb attack at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 26, in which 13 US troops and more than 110 Afghan civilians were killed and a further 100 injured. During a Pentagon briefing on August 28, US Army Maj Gen William D ‘Hank’ Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Staff for Regional Operations, said “we know of zero civilian casualties” as a result of the air strike.

USAF MQ-9A Reaper at Kandahar Airfield 13-08-15 [USAF/Tech Sgt Joseph Swafford]
A US airman assigned to the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron finishes a post flight inspection on a USAF-operated MQ-9A Reaper aircraft at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on August 13, 2015. USAF/Tech Sgt Joseph Swafford

Taylor also stated: “We will continue to have the ability to defend ourselves and to leverage over-the-horizon capability to conduct counterterrorism operations as needed.” Since the US announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US military has confirmed that it will continue to be able to conduct an operation such as the Reaper strike in Nangarhar Province without having to launch it from within Afghanistan.

A further strike with a Reaper was carried out on August 29, this time in the capital city of Kabul, targeting a vehicle that was being prepared for a suicide attack on the airport. Although there were unconfirmed reports of civilian casualties, a statement on the same day from US Central Command spokesperson Capt Bill Urban (USN), said: “We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today. 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.”

Meanwhile, in a statement on August 28, US President Joe Biden said of the initial Reaper strike: “This strike was not the last. We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay. Whenever anyone seeks to harm the United States or attack our troops, we will respond. That will never be in doubt.”