President Joe Biden addressed the nation on Thursday in response to multiple terror attacks near the Kabul airport that have left at least a dozen U.S. service members and 60 Afghans dead, with more wounded.
“It’s been a tough day,” he began, with the American flag behind him. “These American service members who gave their lives ― it’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate here ― were heroes. Heroes who’ve been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others.”
Before Biden’s address, the Pentagon delivered a press briefing in which Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command, spoke to reporters about at least two suicide bombers and gunmen attacking crowds of Afghans and military near Kabul’s airport earlier Thursday ― where the U.S. has been evacuating and facilitating the evacuation of Americans and Afghans in response to the Taliban taking over the country.
The first attack was a suicide bomb on the airport’s Abbey gate, which was followed by several gunmen who opened fire on civilians and military. The explosion struck people standing in a wastewater canal, throwing bodies into the water. The Pentagon believes the attack was carried out by ISIS-K, the self-styled Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan that is far more radical than the Taliban.
McKenzie said that the Pentagon is aware of at least 12 U.S. service members who were killed, with 15 additional service members injured. The general did not have an exact number of Afghans killed and wounded, though he said that U.S. troops are treating some of them at the airport while others have been taken to hospitals.
The second attack was at the nearby Baron Hotel, where Afghans, Britons and Americans were told to gather in recent days before going to the airport for evacuation. McKenzie did not yet know what kind of explosion occurred at the hotel, nor did he have any information on casualties.
“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this ― we will not forgive, we will not forget,” Biden said. “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
As of Thursday, there are about 5,000 evacuees on the ramp at the airport awaiting airlift, according to the general. Since Aug. 14, more than 104,000 civilians have been evacuated through the airport ― over 66,000 by the U.S. and more than 37,000 by allies and partners, with those numbers including about 5,000 Americans.
The U.S. believes that there are still about 1,000 American citizens left in Afghanistan, though Biden and the Pentagon have stressed there are some Americans they already identified and contacted who have decided to stay in the country.
The Pentagon stressed that the threat by ISIS-K is “very real” and will likely continue. The U.S. military’s focus currently is on other “extremely active threat streams” that range from rocket attacks, which McKenzie said troops have adequate protection against, as well as suicide vehicle attacks and suicide walk-in attacks.
After the initial two explosions, reporters and Afghans on the ground in Kabul began reporting sounds of additional blasts. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the later explosions heard near the airport were carried out by U.S. forces in an attempt to destroy their equipment.
S.V. Dáte contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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