The Taliban have killed the senior Islamic State (IS) leader who was behind the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport that killed 13 US service members and about 170 Afghans in August 2021, US officials said on Tuesday. The IS operative, whose name was not disclosed, was killed by the Taliban in a counter-terrorism operation in Afghanistan earlier this month, according to three US officials.
The US was not involved in the operation and did not rely on the Taliban for confirmation of the death, the officials said. They said the US had intelligence and other sources confirming that the IS leader was killed. The officials also said they were not providing the Taliban with operational information or intelligence, but that other partners in the region did share information with the Taliban.
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The IS leader was described by a senior Biden administration official as “the mastermind” of the attack, which involved a suicide bomber detonating an explosive device from within the dense crowds desperately trying to enter the Abbey Gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 26, 2021.
The attack claimed the lives of 11 Marines, one Navy corpsman and one Army soldier, as well as scores of Afghans who were trying to flee the country after the Taliban takeover. The attack was claimed by IS-Khorasan (IS-K), the Afghan branch of IS, which is opposed to both the US and the Taliban.
The families of the 13 US service members killed in the attack were notified of the IS leader’s death this week, most in a brief phone call from the military. Some of them expressed frustration over the lack of information and accountability from the Pentagon and the State Department about the attack.
The senior administration official said that killing the IS leader was “a significant outcome” and that IS-K had suffered “a series of high-profile leadership losses” this year. The official also said that it was “the responsibility of the Taliban to ensure that they give no safe haven to terrorists, whether al Qaeda or IS-K.”
The Taliban, which has been in control of Afghanistan’s government since 2021, has vowed to fight against IS-K and prevent it from carrying out attacks on its soil. However, some analysts have questioned whether the Taliban has the capacity and will to effectively counter IS-K, which still poses a threat to regional and international security.