The Taliban have killed the senior Islamic State group leader behind the August 2021 suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport that left 13 U.S. service members and about 170 Afghans dead, according to the father of a Marine killed in the attack who was briefed Tuesday by military officials.
Over the weekend, the U.S. military began to inform families of the 11 Marines, the sailor and the soldier killed in the blast at Abbey Gate during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. And those family members 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 was confirmed by three U.S. officials and a senior congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that had not yet been made public.
The IS 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 Islamic State group, according to one of the officials. The Taliban at the time were not aware of the identity of the person they killed, the official added.
Darin Hoover, the father of Staff Sgt. Darin Taylor Hoover, said the Marines provided only limited information to him on Tuesday and did not identify the Islamic State leader or give the circumstances of his death.
Hoover is among a group of 12 Gold Star families 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 Cpl. Dylan Merola, who died in the blast.
Rex, who has been 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 U.S. 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 Islamic State 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 on August 26, 2021, to get onto one of the crowded flights out of the country after the Taliban takeover. The scene of desperation quickly turned into one of horror when a suicide bomber attacked. The Islamic State 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 the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the U.S. officially ended its 20-year presence.
The Afghanistan-based offshoot of the Islamic State, 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 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and 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 U.S. and the Taliban have deteriorated significantly since they imposed draconian 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 U.S. 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 U.S. troops led to the swift collapse of the Afghan government and military, which the U.S. 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.
The Biden administration in the publicly released version of the review largely laid blame on President Donald Trump for the deadly and 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.