President Joe Biden on Thursday pledged to complete the evacuation of U.S. citizens and others from Afghanistan despite today’s deadly suicide bombing at Kabul airport.
He pledged to avenge the deaths of 13 killed US servicemen, telling officials, “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.
Speaking emotionally from the White House, Biden said the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State group was to blame for the attacks which also killed at least 60 Afghans. He said there was no evidence that they colluded with the Taliban, who now control the country.
“We have reason to believe that we know who they are,” the president said, adding that he had asked military commanders to draw up plans to strike “ISIS assets, leaders and facilities” .
“We will respond forcefully and precisely at our time, wherever we choose.”
General Frank McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, said further attempted attacks were expected. He said there were around 5,000 evacuees at the airfield on Thursday awaiting flights.
The IS affiliate in Afghanistan has carried out numerous attacks against civilian targets in the country in recent years. He is much more radical than the Taliban, which took power less than two weeks ago.
Biden said U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan told him it was important to complete the evacuation mission. “And we will,” he said. “We will not be deterred by terrorists. “
No less than 1,000 Americans and many more Afghans are still struggling to get out of Kabul.
The Marine Corps said 10 Marines were among those killed. The US military said the 18 injured were being evacuated from Afghanistan in Air Force C-17 transport planes equipped with surgical units.
It was the deadliest day for US forces in Afghanistan since August 2011, when a helicopter was shot down by an insurgent armed with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing 30 US soldiers and eight Afghans.
In gloomy, sometimes hesitant remarks, Biden praised the American forces and asked for a minute’s silence.
Thursday’s attacks were the first time the first U.S. servicemen have been killed in Afghanistan since February 2020, the month the Trump administration struck a deal with the Taliban.
The deal called on the militant group to end attacks on Americans in return for the withdrawal of all American troops and contractors by May 2021. Biden announced in April that he was ending the American war and that ‘he would withdraw all his forces by September.
The Kabul attacks took place 12 days after the start of the hasty evacuation and five days before its planned completion. Some Republicans and others are pleading to extend the evacuation beyond next Tuesday’s deadline.
The administration has been widely blamed for a chaotic and deadly evacuation that only began in earnest after the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government and the takeover of the country by the Taliban. More than 100,000 people have been evacuated to date: Afghans, Americans and others.
Thursday’s attack was sure to intensify political pressure from all sides on Biden, who was already under heavy criticism for not starting the withdrawal sooner.
A number of U.S. allies have said they are halting their evacuation efforts in Kabul, at least in part to give the United States the time it needs to complete its evacuation operations before withdrawing 5 000 of their soldiers by Tuesday.
The airlift continued on Thursday, although the number of evacuees declined for a second day as the terror attack and other threats kept people from the airport and other countries began to stop their efforts.
About 7,500 people were evacuated, a White House official said, between 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. The total compared to 19,000 in a 24 hour period near the start of the week.