US drone strike kills 2 ISIS-K, as Biden promises more, while warning of new attack on Kabul airport

US President Joe Biden warned Americans that the “threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high,” adding, “our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours.”
US military aircraft takes off at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. (Photo: Wali Sabawoon / AP)
US military aircraft takes off at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. (Photo: Wali Sabawoon / AP)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Pentagon officials on Saturday provided additional details about a drone strike which the US had conducted earlier that morning, around midnight in Afghanistan.

They explained that two ISIS-K terrorists had been killed and one wounded. Subsequently, on Saturday afternoon, President Joe Biden issued a statement thanking the US military for their successful operation, while affirming, “This strike was not the last.”

Biden also warned Americans, “The threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high,” adding, “our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours.”

In briefing journalists on Saturday morning, Maj. Gen. William Taylor (US Army), Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations, explained, “Yesterday, US military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation against an ISIS K planner and facilitator.”

Local media identified the target as a house in eastern Nangarhar province’s Qala-e-Naghrak 7th District.

The target of the US airstrike in Afghanistan (Photos: Social Media / Asvaka News)
The target of the US airstrike in Afghanistan (Photos: Social Media / Asvaka News)

“Two high-profile ISIS targets were killed and one was wounded,” Taylor said, describing the individuals as an ISIS-K “planner and facilitator.”

Journalists pressed for additional details. What did he mean by a planner, a facilitator? Were they involved in Thursday’s attack on Kabul airport? However, Taylor declined to say more.

Permeable Terrorist Groups—and the Figurehead Problem

Americans tend to speak of the alphabet soup of terrorist groups, as if they were western-style institutions with fixed and firm hierarchies, with well-established muster rolls.

In reality, however, they are far more fluid and penetrable. On Saturday, a journalist challenged the Pentagon briefers, asking about the distinction the US government draws between the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

“Do you consider the Taliban and the Haqqani network separate entities?” a reporter asked, noting that Sirajuddin Haqqani is the deputy leader of the Taliban.

In 2008, the US designated Haqqani as a global terrorist, and it began to offer a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest. In 2012, it designated the Haqqani Network, in its entirety, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

As the journalist pressed his point, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby acknowledged, “There’s a marbling, if you will, of Taliban and Haqqani,” even as he affirmed that it was not relevant to the current mission—the evacuation of those slated to leave Kabul and of US forces over the next three days.

Notably, both the Taliban and Haqqani Network are supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which has long used such groups to advance its influence in Afghanistan against its principle rival, India.

Thus, despite the journalist’s probing question, the issue of a state—Pakistan, along with its support for and involvement with those groups—was neglected.

Some figures, like Richard Holbrooke, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, under President Barack Obama, believed that the Taliban’s insurgency could not be addressed, without obliging Pakistan to stop supporting the group.

Read More: Has Pakistan been helping the Taliban?

The journalist also raised another critical issue, although he did not seem to recognize that.

Often the number two in these groups is the real person in charge. The top man is merely a figurehead! He serves to provide legitimacy for ruthless men seeking power and to attract the contemporary Islamic equivalent of those whom Vladimir Lenin a century ago, characterized as “useful idiots.” Indeed, scholars of Islamic history will recognize that as the model for the rule of the Abbasid empire in its latter years.

What is ISIS?

Blissfully ignorant of such complexities, most Americans, even those professionally involved in the issue, regard ISIS, in its core area of Iraq and Syria, as a group of Islamic extremists, headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at least until his assassination in October 2019.

Indeed, a senior military intelligence analyst, who shared this reporter’s view, advised many years ago that if there was one Islamic figure prominent in an insurgent group, Islam was all the military officers saw, even very senior commanders.

“Like a moth to the flame,” he said in 2005, at a time when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was the supposed leader of al Qaida in Iraq.

The German news magazine, Der Spiegel, has published the best account, at least in the public domain, of ISIS: “Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State."

The report is based on captured ISIS documents and is, in fact, a leak from German intelligence. As it explains, ISIS was first established in 2012 in Syria, amid the chaos of that country’s civil war, by former members of Saddam Hussein’s military intelligence.

That would certainly explain why ISIS was so successful, militarily, in Syria and Iraq, and why it is so brutal.

It is likely that something similar applies to ISIS-K: it is a lot more complicated than the simplistic stereotype being embraced now—a group of religious zealots, whose complaint against the Taliban is that they are not Islamic enough!

Almost certainly, the core of ISIS-K includes individuals seeking power and other resources, who are using Islam as a tool in pursuit of those goals. Possibly, they have been trained by members of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. They have established a similar reputation for brutality, which facilitates control over a population, while their military skills remain to be seen.