President Joe Biden has indicated that the United States will retaliate against the ISIS-affiliated suicide bomb attacks at Kabul’s international airport on Thursday afternoon – promising to “hunt down” the terrorists responsible.
At least 90 Afghans and 13 U.S. Service Members – 11 U.S. Marines and one Navy medic – were killed and 150 people were wounded in the attacks, which saw two suicide bombers and gunmen attacking the crowds flocking around Hamid Karzai International Airport airport in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K, an Afghan offshoot of the Islamic State group and a sworn enemy of the Taliban, is believed to be behind the attacks, after the group claimed responsibility for the bombings on its Amaq News Agency Telegram channel. The Taliban are not believed to have been involved, and condemned the blasts.
“We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can,” wrote Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby on Twitter. Twenty minutes later, Kirby added, “We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate. We will continue to update.”
In an emotional speech from the White House, President Biden said that he had asked the U.S. military for options to respond to the suicide blasts, and warned ISIS-K that the U.S. would avenge the attack.
“Know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said. “I've also told my commanders to attack ISIS-K assets. And we will respond with precision, at our time, at a place that we choose, and the moment of our choosing.”
“Here's what you need to know. These ISIS terrorists will not win.”
Biden further noted that he had instructed the military “Whatever they need, if they need additional force, I will grant it.”
The explosions came just hours after Western officials warned of a major attack in Kabul and urged people to leave the airport. But with the U.S. withdrawal deadline fast approaching, and the window of opportunity for thousands of Afghans to escape the country rapidly closing, large throngs of people continued to gather around the airport’s gates in a desperate last-ditch effort to get on an evacuation flight.
In his remarks from the White House on Thursday evening, Biden said the ISIS-affiliated attack was one “we've been talking about, worried about” and that “We're outraged as well as heartbroken.”
Evacuation flights are continuing out of Kabul in the wake of the blasts, with the U.S. general overseeing the extractions insisting that the attacks would not stop them from getting American civilians and others out of the country, according to AP News. General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said there was a large amount of security at the airport and that alternate routes were being used to get evacuees inside. Thousands of people were still awaiting flights on the airfield, he said.
General McKenzie also noted that ISIS attacks in the area were “expected to continue,” but declared that “ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing our mission.”
“We’ve been clear all along that we’re going to retain the right to operate against ISIS in Afghanistan and we’re working very hard to determine attribution, to determine who is associated with this cowardly attack and we’re prepared to take action against them,” he said. “24/7, we’re looking for them.”
The two explosions took place outside the perimeter of Hamid Karzai airport. One of the bombers struck Afghans standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal, throwing bodies into the water. The second blast was at or near Baron Hotel, where many potential evacuees had been instructed to gather in recent days before heading to the airport.
It is still unclear how the attackers made it through U.S. and Taliban checkpoints to have gotten so close to the airport.
Abbey Gate is on the civilian side of Hamid Karzai, and where many hopeful evacuees flock. One Afghan who escaped Kabul days earlier followed news of the attacks from his country of resettlement.
“The explosion happened at the eastern gate of Kabul airport, the way that we have entered,” he told VICE World News.
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