The Pentagon confirmed that 12 U.S. military service members were killed and another 15 were injured in an attack at the Kabul airport Thursday. According to Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, a “number of Afghan civilians” were also killed or injured in a bombing and gunfire attack the terrorist organization ISIS-K has since claimed responsibility for.
It was reported that a pair of bombs were detonated, one at the Hamid Karzai International Airport and another at the nearby Baron Hotel. McKenzie said the bombings were followed by several “ISIS-gunmen” opening fire on both civilians and military personnel in the crowded staging area being used for massive and rapid evacuations from Afghanistan.
The evacuation process has been hindered by Thursday’s attack but the Pentagon said the mission continues.
Despite U.S. tension with both groups, ISIS-K and the Taliban are not allies; the Taliban reacted with force against ISIS fighters Thursday.
At a press conference held about 30 minutes later than scheduled, President Joe Biden addressed the nation, first saying:
“It’s been a tough day.”
Biden said he’d been in constant communications with commanders and the situation on the ground is still evolving.
Calling the fallen troops “heroes,” he added:
“Heroes who’ve been engaged in a dangerous and selfless mission to save the lives of others.”
Empathizing with victims’ families, Biden recalled the sinking, “black hole” feeling when he lost his son to cancer after military service, telling the loved ones of those killed in Kabul Thursday that the country owes them a forever debt for their loss.
“My heart aches for you. But I know this: We have a continuing obligation, a most sacred obligation, to all of you — the families of those heroes. That obligation is not temporary, it lasts forever.”
Biden said he’s ordered commanders to devise a plan to attack ISIS-K “at a place and time of our choosing” in retribution for the attack, adding:
“To those who carried out this attack, ….we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
The president said the evacuation mission “will not be deterred,” adding that about 7,000 Americans and Afghan ally refugees were flown out in the past 24 hours, including time under attack. It was reported that approximately 19,000 people were evacuated through the airport the prior day.
Pressed by a reporter on whether he considers himself responsible for the current situation in Afghanistan and Thursday’s attack, he said:
“I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that’s happened of late. But here’s the deal: You know, I wish you’d one day say these things, you know as well as I do, that the former president made a deal with the Taliban.”
Biden openly criticizes the withdrawal deal reached in February 2020 between the former administration and the Taliban, which originally committed the U.S. to withdrawal in May and did not include Afghan government officials in negotiations. However, he defended his decision to pull troops, American citizens and as many Afghan allies as possible out by Aug. 31, closing the press conference by saying:
“It was time to end a 20-year war.”