Ground assault by Taliban kills Daesh terrorist who spearheaded August 2021 bombing at Kabul airport that left about 170 Afghans and 13 US troops dead, US officials confirm.

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the August 26 twin suicide bombs, which killed scores of people including 13 US troops, at Kabul airport on August 27, 2021.
A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the August 26 twin suicide bombs, which killed scores of people including 13 US troops, at Kabul airport on August 27, 2021. (AFP Archive)

The Taliban government has killed the alleged mastermind of a devastating suicide bomb attack that left some 183 people dead at the Kabul airport during the chaotic withdrawal of US forces in 2021, US officials said.

He was a key Daesh-Khorasan figure "directly involved in plotting operations like Abbey Gate, and now is no longer able to plot or conduct attacks," White House spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement, referring to the Abbey Gate entrance to the Kabul airport where the blast occurred. 

He did not name the Daesh militant.

The leader of the Daesh cell that planned the attack was killed by Taliban authorities in recent weeks, a senior US administration official told Politico on condition of anonymity on Tuesday. 

The official told Politico that the United States had not been involved in the raid, and would not say when it took place or identify the alleged Daesh member killed, citing "sensitivities."

But the official said that the target "was someone who remained a key plotter, an overseer of plotting" for Daesh-Khorasan, the branch of the group operating in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.

The official said US intelligence has been working to confirm the killing, and that the Biden administration has held off announcing it until the families of the 13 US troops could be told.

"We are not partnering with the Taliban, but we do think the outcome is a significant one," the senior official told Politico.

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'Staging ground' for Daesh

The bomber detonated among packed crowds at the airport's perimetre as they tried to flee Afghanistan on August 26, 2021. The blast killed some 170 Afghans and 13 US troops who were securing the airport for the traumatic exit.

It was one of the deadliest bombings in Afghanistan in recent years, and prompted a wave of criticism of President Joe Biden for his decision to pull American forces out of the country nearly 20 years after the US invasion.

The pullout, ending on August 30, 2021, saw Taliban fighters sweep aside Western-trained Afghan forces in just weeks, forcing the last US troops to mount the desperate evacuation from Kabul's airport.

An unprecedented military airlift operation managed to get more than 120,000 people out of the country in a matter of days.

Biden has long defended his decision to leave Afghanistan, which critics have said helped cause the catastrophic collapse of Afghan forces and paved the way for the Taliban to return to power two decades after their first government was toppled.

Nothing "would have changed the trajectory" of the exit and "ultimately, President Biden refused to send another generation of Americans to fight a war that should have ended for the United States long ago," the White House National Security Council said in a report to Congress earlier this month.

A recent Washington Post report citing leaked Pentagon documents said the US believes that since the withdrawal, Afghanistan is becoming a "staging ground" for Daesh group.

The Taliban and Daesh have long engaged in a turf war in Afghanistan, and experts have pointed to the militant group as the biggest security challenge for the new Afghan government going forward.

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Source: AFP