Biden says an attack at the airport in Kabul is ‘highly likely’ in the next 24 to 36 hours
By Amanda Macias
President Joe Biden said in a statement Saturday that his national security team warned an attack at the airport in Kabul is “highly likely in the next 24-36 hours.”
“The situation on the ground continues to be extremely dangerous, and the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high,” Biden said, adding that he directed U.S. commanders to “take every possible measure to prioritize force protection.”
Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters Thursday that ISIS is likely to try to continue attacks before the evacuations conclude.
“We believe it is their desire to continue those attacks and we expect those attacks to continue,” the four-star general told reporters at the Pentagon, adding that the U.S. was monitoring an “extremely active threat stream against the airfield.”
McKenzie, who oversees U.S. military operations in the region, said the threats against Western forces and civilians at the airport ranged from gunfire to rockets to suicide bombings.
“So very, very real threat streams, what we would call tactical that means imminent, could occur at any moment,” he said. McKenzie said that he did not foresee requesting additional U.S. troops for the mission.
The latest threat assessment follows a U.S. drone strike on Friday that killed two high-profile ISIS-K members in Afghanistan.
“I said we would go after the group responsible for the attack on our troops and innocent civilians in Kabul, and we have,” Biden said of the drone strike. “This strike was not the last,” he added. “We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay,” the president said.
The U.S. strike came less than two days after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive near the gates of Kabul’s airport, resulting in the deaths of 13 American service members.
The Pentagon said Saturday that the strike targeted two ISIS-K members believed to be involved in planning attacks against U.S. forces in Kabul. Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor said that there were no known civilian casualties following the strike.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the U.S. did not notify nor coordinate with the Taliban ahead of the strike. He added that the Defense Department did not notify other countries in the region nor U.S. lawmakers.
The Pentagon also confirmed that the U.S. military in Kabul has begun its retrograde, or withdrawal, process from the country. Kirby said that less than 5,000 service members remain in the country, adding that the U.S. would no longer provide an exact number due to security conditions.
In the last 24 hours, Western forces evacuated 6,800 people out of Kabul on 66 military cargo aircraft flights. Since the mass evacuations began on August 14, approximately 111,900 people have been airlifted out of Afghanistan.
About 117,500 people have been evacuated since the end of July, including about 5,400 U.S. citizens and their families.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday that approximately 500 Americans are still seeking evacuation.