Taliban fighters have killed the senior ISIL (ISIS) group leader behind the deadly suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport in August 2021, according to the father of a United States Marine killed in the attack who was briefed on Tuesday by military officials.
The blast at the Abbey Gate entrance of the Hamid Karzai International Airport left about 170 Afghans and 13 US service members dead during the chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.
Over the weekend, the US military began to inform the families of the 11 Marines, the sailor and the soldier who died in the attack that the ISIL (ISIS) leader had been killed. Those family members then shared the information in a private group messaging chat, according to the mother of another Marine.
The account from the families to The Associated Press news agency was confirmed by three US officials and a senior congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that had not yet been made public.
The ISIL (ISIS) leader, whose identity has not yet been released, was killed in southern Afghanistan in early April as the Taliban conducted a series of operations against the group, according to one of the officials.
The Taliban fighters at the time were not aware of the identity of the person they killed, the official added.
Darin Hoover, the father of Staff Sergeant Darin Taylor Hoover, said the Marines provided only limited information to him Tuesday and did not identify the ISIL (ISIS) leader or give the circumstances of his death.
Hoover is among a group of 12 Gold Star families — families that have lost someone serving in the US armed forces — that have kept in touch since the bombing, supporting one another and sharing information through the messaging chat.
The chat was created by Cheryl Rex, the mother of Marine Lance Corporal Dylan Merola, who died in the blast.
Rex, a vocal critic of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal, told the AP it was through the chat group that they were informed late on Monday about the killing, as they awaited official confirmation from US military officials.
Hoover said he and his son’s mother, Kelly Henson, have spent the past year and a half grieving the death of the 31-year-old Marine Corps staff sergeant and praying for accountability from the Biden administration for the handling of the withdrawal.
The killing of the unidentified ISIL (ISIS) group member, Hoover said, does nothing to help them.
“Whatever happens, it’s not going to bring Taylor back and I understand that,” he said in a phone call. “About the only thing his mom and I can do now is be an advocate for him. All we want is the truth. And we’re not getting it. That’s the frustrating part.”
His son and the other fallen service members were among those screening the thousands of Afghans frantically trying to board one of the crowded flights out of the country on August 26, 2021, after the Taliban takeover.
The scene of desperation quickly turned into one of horror when a suicide bomber attacked. The ISIL (ISIS) group claimed responsibility.
The blast at Abbey Gate came hours after Western officials warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport. But that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape in the last few days of a US-led evacuation before the US officially ended its 20-year presence in the country.
The Afghanistan-based offshoot of ISIL (ISIS), with up to 4,000 members, is the Taliban’s most bitter enemy and top threat militarily. The group has continued to carry out attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, especially against the country’s minority groups.
After the Trump administration reached a 2020 deal with the Taliban to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, the Biden administration followed through on that agreement in 2021.
There had been hope in Washington that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition and assistance for the country’s impoverished population might moderate their behaviour.
But relations between the US and the Taliban have deteriorated significantly since they imposed new measures banning girls from school and excluding women from working for international aid and health agencies.
However, a line of communication still exists between the two sides, led by the US special envoy for Afghanistan, Tom West. West’s contacts are primarily with Taliban officials in Kabul and not with the group’s more ideological wing based in Kandahar.
The August 2021 pullout of US troops led to the swift collapse of the Afghan government and military, which the US had supported for nearly two decades, and the return to power of the Taliban.
In the aftermath, President Joe Biden directed that a broad review examine “every aspect of this from top to bottom” and it was released earlier this month.
In the publicly released version of the review, the Biden administration largely laid blame on President Donald Trump for the chaotic 2021 withdrawal, which was punctuated by the suicide bombing at Abbey Gate.
News of the killing came on the same day that Biden formally announced he will seek a second term as president, offering a reminder of one of the most difficult chapters of his presidency.
The disastrous drawdown was, at the time, the biggest crisis that the relatively new administration had faced. It left sharp questions about Biden and his team’s competence and experience — the twin pillars central to his campaign for the White House.