The Pentagon will continue to conduct drone strikes against ISIS-K militants and other targets within Afghanistan when necessary even after the permanent withdrawal of the U.S. military presence within the country, spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday.
The U.S. launched deadly drone strikes against an individual described as an “ISIS-K planner” as well as a suspected suicide car bomber in recent days after the terrorist group claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that killed 13 U.S. service members. Kirby indicated the Pentagon would utilize drone strikes if threats arose in the future.
“We have the capability from an over the horizon perspective of ensuring our national security interests are protected and defended,” Kirby said during an interview with NPR. “And what I would tell you, without getting into hypotheticals or speculating about future operations, we’re going to continue to maintain those capabilities and use them if and when we need to.”
The final American troops departed Kabul’s airport on Monday, ending the longest military conflict in U.S history. Prior to the withdrawal, President Biden pledged to retaliate against ISIS-K over its role in the deadly bombings, warning the group that the U.S. military will “hunt you down and make you pay.”
Kirby affirmed that protracted U.S. military action in Afghanistan would not occur.
“The military mission in Afghanistan is over, and that includes the conclusion of the 20-year war that we’d been fighting there,” he said. “The president was very clear that he wanted to end this war. And we have ended it.”
The Biden administration has faced intense criticism from Republican lawmakers over its handling of the withdrawal. The terrorist attacks in Kabul reignited fears that a Taliban-led Afghanistan could serve as a safe haven to groups plotting further strikes against the U.S.
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Biden has argued the U.S. can effectively combat the threat of terrorism without a permanent presence in Afghanistan. Kirby said the Pentagon does “not assess that there is a significant threat to our national security emanating from Afghanistan right now.”
“But we’re not going to drop the ball here. We’re not going to take our eye off of it. We have robust over the horizon capabilities. We’re going to continue to use them where and when we need to,” Kirby added.