U.S. and allies warn more terrorist attacks likely as Afghanistan withdrawal deadline nears
By Amanda Macias
The U.S. and its allies have warned that more terrorist attacks in Kabul are likely, as the deadline for military withdrawal from Afghanistan draws near.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden’s national security team warned on Friday that “another terrorist attack in Kabul is likely.” She added that U.S. military commanders on the ground “are taking maximum force protection measures at the Kabul Airport.”
On Thursday a suicide bomber struck near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, where thousands of Western forces are assisting with humanitarian evacuations following the Taliban’s takeover of the country more than a week ago.
Following the attack, the Pentagon said 13 U.S. service members had been killed and 18 wounded. More than 100 Afghan civilians also died in the blast.
ISIS-K, an Afghanistan-based affiliate of the terror group, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The warnings came as the U.S. and allies resumed evacuations from Kabul. In the last 24 hours, about 12,500 people were airlifted out of the country. Over the past two weeks, coalition forces have evacuated approximately 105,000 people. Since the end of July, evacuations total about 110,600.
President Joe Biden has previously said that ISIS-K posed a growing threat to the airport, adding that this was why the United States will withdraw its military from Afghanistan by the end of the month.
“I’ve repeatedly said this mission was extraordinarily dangerous, and that’s why I’ve been so determined to limit the duration of this mission,” Biden said Thursday at the White House.
“We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation,” Biden said, adding “America will not be intimidated.”
The president addressed those responsible for the attack, saying, “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” He said that he ordered the Pentagon to “develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities.”
“We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and at the moment of our choosing,” Biden said, indicating that the U.S. had leads on the ISIS leaders who ordered the attack.
Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said 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 U.S. has about 5,400 military personnel assisting with the emergency evacuation efforts in Kabul. The U.K. has the second-largest military presence in Kabul, with about 1,000 troops.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense said Thursday that there were no reported casualties among its government and military personnel.
On Friday, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the threat of more attacks in the area is increasing as the deadline for Western troops to leave the country approaches.
“The threat is obviously going to grow the closer we get to leaving,” he told Sky News. “The narrative is always going to be, as we leave, certain groups such as ISIS will want to stake a claim that they have driven out the U.S. or the U.K.”
Wallace also took a shot at the Biden administration, saying that the West “seems to think it fixes problems; it doesn’t, it manages them.” He added that supporting nation-building should be conducted “as an international force over the long term.”
Meanwhile, the U.K. authorized the closure of its processing center at Kabul’s Baron’s Hotel and evacuated its officials. Wallace told BBC News that the last 1,000 eligible people inside the airfield would be processed and flown out on Friday.
However, he has conceded that not everyone will be able to get out, telling the LBC radio station that up to 150 British nationals may not have made it out yet as evacuation efforts enter their final hours.
Australia has ceased all evacuation flights from Afghanistan in the wake of the bombings, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday, claiming it was no longer safe to continue evacuations.