According to recent reports, Taliban fighters have killed the senior leader of the ISIL (ISIS) group responsible for the deadly suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport in August 2021. The attack claimed the lives of around 170 Afghans and 13 US service members during the chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. The father of one of the US Marines killed in the attack, Darin Hoover, was briefed on Tuesday by military officials. He is part of a group of 12 Gold Star families who have kept in touch since the bombing, supporting one another and sharing information through a messaging chat created by Cheryl Rex, the mother of Marine Lance Corporal Dylan Merola, who died in the blast.
Over the weekend, the US military began informing the families of the 11 Marines, sailor, and 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. The account from the families 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 identity of the ISIL (ISIS) leader has not yet been released, but it is reported that he was killed in southern Afghanistan in early April as the Taliban conducted a series of operations against the group. One of the officials stated that the Taliban fighters were not aware of the identity of the person they killed at the time.
Hoover said he and his son’s mother, Kelly Henson, have spent the past year and a half grieving the death of their 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. His son and the other fallen service members were among those screening 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 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 behavior. However, 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.
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.