The President of the United States, Joe Biden, has promised to hunt down those responsible for the death of 13 US troops following a deadly bombing and gun attack by Islamic State fighters outside the airport of Afghanistan capital (Kabul) on Thursday.
In a speech from the White House, Biden, 78, addressed the “evolving” situation, saying that he was “constantly being updated” as he called the Americans who died “heroes” — “Heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others.”
Officials say 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans were killed in the “heinous attack” outside Kabul’s airport.
Large crowds have for weeks gathered around the airport as tens of thousands of people are being evacuated amid the American military withdrawal and Taliban takeover.
Pentagon officials said Thursday that the bombing was at a gate leading into the airport, likely while the attackers were being physically screened by U.S. troops providing security for the evacuations.
In his speech, President Biden lauded the service members as “part of the bravest, most capable and the most selfless military on the face of the Earth. And they were part of, simply, what I call the ‘backbone of America.’ They’re the spine of America, the best the country has to offer.”
He offered condolences from himself and his wife, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and led a moment of silence for the victims.
Directing his message to those responsible — believed to be a branch of the Islamic State opposed to the U.S. and the Taliban — as well as “anyone who wishes America harm,” the president warned:
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.”
“We will not be deterred by terrorists,” Biden said, adding, “We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation. … America will not be intimidated.”
The White House subsequently said Friday morning that another 12,500 people had left the country through the airport between Thursday and Friday morning.
The U.S.-led evacuation, after initially facing widespread criticism as too slow and clumsy, expanded rapidly since mid-August, which officials have touted as an enormous logistical feat.
Kabul airport explosion
Wali Sabawoon/AP/Shutterstock Smoke rises from explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday.
On Thursday afternoon, shortly before Biden’s speech, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said during a press conference that the military had been bracing for an attack and was prepared for future violence — but that would not stop them from more evacuations.
McKenzie said then that a suicide bomber had struck the Abbey Gate, one of the entry points to Kabul’s airport, after which Islamic State gunmen opened fire on the military and civilians.
The working assessment was the bomber, having already passed through other checkpoints en route to the airport, detonated themselves as they were being screened by American forces to enter the gate, McKenzie said.
Ijeoma Njoku reporting, Obinwannem News / August 28, 2021