Two Islamic State suicide bombers and shooters detonated two improvised explosive devices (IEDs), at the Abbey Gate entrance to Hamid Karzai International Airport and at the Baron Hotel, killing at least 90 people including 13 United States service members – first in Afghanistan since February 2020; 15 marines and one medic and wounded at least 150 Afghans wounded. The blasts ripped through crowds of civilians who were appealing for a chance to flee before the U.S. withdrawal deadline on August 31st.
The attack occurred amidst of the United States and other countries’ efforts to evacuate as many people as possible before 31 August: the date set by Washington for the end of the US military mission in Afghanistan.
ISIS-Khorasan (Wilayat Khorasan, ISIS-K or IS-k), the Islamic State’s Afghanistan and Pakistan arm, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the suicide bombing in a report posted by its Amaq news agency.
Hours before the ISIS-K attack, U.S. and Western intelligence agencies issued specific threat alerts related to the ISIS-K potential attack. They urged people to stay away from the airport. Even before the Taliban’s overthrow of the U.S.-made Afghan government, U.S. officials were concerned with potential ISIS-K’s spoiler role during Afghanistan’s transition. On Aug. 17 Defence Department report said, “ISIS-Khorasan exploited the political instability and rise in violence” from April through June “by attacking minority sectarian targets and infrastructure to spread fear and highlight the Afghan government’s inability to provide adequate security.”
Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), pointed to the risks and “tactical threat” faced by US forces conducting evacuation operations in Afghanistan. McKenzie said that those threats include rocket attacks, which he said could be countered by anti-rocket and mortar systems in place at the airport. Also, a risk, he said, is similar larger suicide bomb attacks. “We also know they aim to get a … vehicle-borne suicide attack (VBIED) in if they can – from a small vehicle to a large vehicle – they’re working all those options…All of those things we look at.” He underlined that “We’ve been clear all along that we’re going to retain the right to operate against ISIS in Afghanistan, and we are working very hard right now to determine attribution, to determine who is associated with this cowardly attack, and we’re prepared to take action against them. 24/7, we are looking for them,”
Note: With the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan gone from power, ISIS-K can now focus on undermining the Taliban, which will be struggling to hold back attacks as it struggles to govern. Nevertheless, the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover will spur the Islamic State to step up its efforts to gain political influence, to stay relevant while disrupting Taliban efforts to stabilize the country, and undermine their credibility. ISIS–K poses a substantial challenge to Taliban control and underscores forthcoming terror threats from Afghanistan after the American withdrawal. ISIS-K will continue targeting Americans and Westerns in and outside Afghanistan.