President Joe Biden vowed Thursday to complete the evacuation of American citizens and others from Afghanistan despite a deadly suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport. He also promised to avenge the deaths, declaring to the extremists responsible: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
Speaking with emotion from the White House, Biden said the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate was to blame for the attacks that killed 12 American service members and many more Afghan civilians. He said there was no evidence they colluded with the Taliban, who now control the country.
“We have some reason to believe we know who they are,” he said of the bombers and gunmen involved. “Not certain.”
Over 60 persons were killed, including 12 US Marines, recorded, after a third explosion rocked Kabul’s Airport.
Taliban officials earlier said that at least 13 people including children have been reported dead at Hamid Karzai International Airport, with the death toll rising since then.
An Afghan interpreter who was there hoping to be evacuated described how he saw a girl believed to be around five killed by the bomb.
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He told the BBC: ‘I saw a baby there and I went to her and I picked her up and started taking her to the hospital. I took her to the hospital, but she died on my hands.’
Reports say one bomb carried by suspected suicide bombers exploded at Abbey Gate just outside the airport, and at least one other was detonated at the Baron Hotel a short distance away.
This comes as the US under president Joe Biden announced a sudden exit from Afghanistan following 20 years of war following the 9/11 terror attacks on US soil.
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But also recall that the US government warned Americans to stay away from the Kabul airport after ISIS threats.
The US Embassy in Afghanistan issued a security alert flagging “potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport.”
“We are advising US citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a US government representative to do so,” the alert said.
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US officials believe ISIS could launch an attack that would simultaneously harm Americans, and bruise the Taliban’s sense of control, The New York Times reported. The Times added that it was unclear whether ISIS was capable of such an attack.
The warnings come just one day after President Joe Biden promised that “any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.” He said more than 18,000 people have been evacuated since last month.
A US official says the attack outside Kabul airport is ‘definitely believed’ to have been carried out by the Islamic State group.
Pictures on social media show people walking around wounded, in shock, while others were pictured moving dead bodies.
The UK Ministry of Defence however, said UK soldiers didn’t experience any casualty.
The UK MOD said in a statement: ‘We are working urgently to establish what has happened in Kabul and its impact on the ongoing evacuation effort.
‘Our primary concern remains the safety of our personnel, British citizens and the citizens of Afghanistan. We are in close contact with our US and other NATO allies at an operational level on the immediate response to this incident.’
As many as 1,000 Americans and many more Afghans are still struggling to get out of Kabul.
Biden was briefed on the attacks, which also killed dozens of Afghans and came 12 days into the rushed evacuation and five days before its scheduled completion. Some Republicans argued to extend the evacuation beyond next Tuesday’s deadline.
The U.S. general overseeing the evacuation, Gen. Frank McKenzie, said after the attacks, “If we can find who is associated with this, we will go after them.” He said it would be a mistake for the United States to call an early end to the evacuation, despite the risks.
The administration has been widely blamed for a chaotic and deadly evacuation that began in earnest only after the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban’s takeover of the country. More than 100,000 people have been evacuated so far.
Thursday’s attacks were sure to intensify political pressure from all sides on Biden, who already was under heavy criticism for not beginning the pullout earlier. He had announced in April that he was ending the U.S. war and would have all forces out by September.
House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy of California called for Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to bring the chamber back into session to consider legislation that would prohibit the U.S. withdrawal until all Americans are out. That’s highly unlikely, and Pelosi’s office dismissed such suggestions as “empty stunts.”
At the Pentagon, Gen McKenzie said the military believes the attacks on the airport’s perimeter were carried out by fighters affiliated with the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan arm. He said more attempted attacks were expected.
After the suicide bomber’s attack at the airport’s Abbey Gate, a number of ISIS gunmen opened fire on civilians and military forces, he said. There also was an attack at or near the Baron Hotel near that gate, he said.
The attacks won’t drive the U.S. out earlier than scheduled, he said.
“Let me be clear, while we are saddened by the loss of life, both U.S. and Afghan, we are continuing to execute the mission,” he said. He said there were about 5,000 evacuees on the airfield Thursday awaiting flights. He said the Taliban have been “useful to work with” and are not suspected in the attacks.
“We thought this would happen sooner or later,” McKenzie said, adding that U.S. military commanders were working with Taliban commanders to prevent further attacks.
McKenzie said that in addition to the 12 U.S. service members killed in the attacks, at least 15 were injured.
Despite intense pressure to extend the Tuesday deadline, Biden has repeatedly cited the threat of terrorist attacks against civilians and U.S. service members as a reason to keep to his plan.
The explosions detonated as the U.S. worked to get remaining Americans out of the country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that as many as 1,500 Americans may be awaiting evacuation.
Asked during an interview with ABC News about reports the evacuation could end on Friday, Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, declined to comment. He spoke shortly before the deadly attacks.
Wilson said “there are safe ways to get to” the airport for those Americans who still want to leave. He added that “there undoubtedly will be” some at-risk Afghans who will not get out before Biden’s deadline.
The airlift continued Thursday despite warnings of vehicle-borne bomb threats near the airport. The White House said 13,400 people had been evacuated in the 24 hours that ended early Thursday morning Washington time. Those included 5,100 people aboard U.S. military planes and 8,300 on coalition and partner aircraft. That was a substantial drop from the 19,000 airlifted by all means the day before.
Earlier, President Joe Biden said the US is “on pace” to meet a 31 August deadline for evacuations, despite previous calls from allies for an extension.
“The sooner we finish the better,” he said. Some American troops have already been withdrawn, US media report – although evacuations are not affected.
President Biden also said: “The Taliban have been taking steps to help get our people out,” adding that the international community would judge the Taliban by their actions.
“None of us are going to take the Taliban’s word for it,” he added.