Taliban kill masterminds of suicide bombing at Kabul airport
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Taliban killed the senior leader of the Islamic State group behind the August 2021 suicide bombing outside Kabul Airport that killed 13 U.S. soldiers and about 170 Afghans, according to the father of one killed in the attack Marines were briefed by military officials on Tuesday.
Over the weekend, the US military began notifying families of the 11 Marines killed, the sailor and the soldier killed the explosion at Abbey Gate during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan. And those family members shared the information in a private group messaging chat, according to another Marine’s mother.
The families’ report to The Associated Press was corroborated by three US officials and a senior congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that had not yet been released.
The IS leader, whose identity is not yet known, was killed in southern Afghanistan in early April when the Taliban were conducting a series of operations against the Islamic State group, according to an official. The Taliban were then unaware of the identity of the person they killed, the official added.
Darin Hoover, the father of Staff Sgt. Darin Taylor Hoover, said the Marines gave him limited information Tuesday and did not identify the Islamic State leader or provide the circumstances of his death.
Hoover is among a group of 12 Gold Star families who have stayed in touch since the bombing, supporting one another and sharing information via messaging chat. The chat was created by Cheryl Rex, the mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, who died in the blast.
Rex, who has been vocal in his criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal, told the AP that they were briefed on the killing via the chat group late Monday while awaiting official confirmation from US military officials.
Hoover said he and his son’s mother, Kelly Henson, have spent the past year and a half mourning the death of the 31-year-old Marine Corps staff sergeant and praying for accountability from the Biden administration for handling the withdrawal.
The killing of the unidentified member of the Islamic State group, Hoover said, does not help them.
“Whatever happens, it’s not going to bring Taylor back and I understand that,” he said in a phone call. “The only thing his mother and I can do now is stand up for him. All we want is the truth. And we don’t get it. That’s the frustrating part.”
His son and the other fallen military personnel were among those investigating thousands of Afghans struggling to board one of the crowded flights out of the country following the Taliban takeover on August 26, 2021. The scene of despair quickly turned to one of horror when a suicide bomber attacked. The terrorist militia Islamic State took responsibility.
The Abbey Gate blast came hours after Western officials warned of a major attack and urged people to evacuate the airport. But that advice was largely ignored by Afghans desperate to flee the country in the final days of an American-led evacuation, before the US formally ended its 20-year presence.
The Afghan-based Islamic State affiliate, which has up to 4,000 members, is the Taliban’s worst enemy and greatest military threat. The group has continued to carry out attacks, particularly against the country’s minorities, since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan.
After the Trump administration reached an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in 2020 and the Biden administration implemented that agreement in 2021, there was hope in Washington that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition and support for the impoverished population of the country could moderate their behavior.
But US-Taliban relations have deteriorated significantly since they imposed draconian new measures barring girls from school and women from working for international aid and health organizations.
However, a line of communication still exists between the two sides, led by US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Tom West. West’s contacts are primarily with Taliban officials in Kabul, rather than with the group’s more ideological Kandahar-based wing.
The withdrawal of US troops in August 2021 led to the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and military, which had supported the US for nearly two decades, and the return of the Taliban to power. As a result, President Joe Biden directed that a comprehensive review examine “every aspect from top to bottom,” and it was released earlier this month.
The Biden administration, in the publicly released version of the review, largely blamed President Donald Trump for the deadly and chaotic 2021 withdrawal punctuated by the Abbey Gate suicide bombing.
News of the assassination came on the same day that Biden officially announced that he would seek a second term as president, commemorating one of the most difficult chapters of his presidency. The catastrophic decline was the biggest crisis facing the relatively new government at the time. It left sharp questions about the competence and experience of Biden and his team — the two central pillars of his White House campaign.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Tara Copp, and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.