WASHINGTON, D.C. — While addressing Thursday’s attacks in Kabul that killed several U.S. service members and many Afghans, President Joe Biden vowed to complete the evacuation of Afghanistan and hunt down those responsible for the killings.
Military officials have confirmed that 13 U.S. service members were killed.
CNN and CBS News are reporting that 18 people were injured in a series of explosions near the Kabul airport, where thousands of people have gathered in the hopes of escaping Afghanistan following a takeover by the Taliban.
The Associated Press reports that the U.S. service members killed in the attacks included 11 Marines and a member of the Navy.
According to the Pentagon, the first of two explosions took place at the airport's Abbey gate, where a crowd of people stood. The second blast took place at the nearby Baron Hotel — a place where many had been told to gather to prepare for evacuations.
In a Pentagon press conference, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. said two suicide bombers, who were assessed to be ISIS fighters, detonated the explosives.
“The attack on the Abbey gate was followed by an attack by a number of ISIS gunmen who opened fire on civilians and military forces,” said Gen. McKenzie, Commander of U.S. Central Command.
McKenzie also confirmed that several Afghan civilians were killed and injured in the attacks. He says the U.S. is treating some Afghan civilians, and many others have been taken out to area hospitals.
An Afghan official told the AP that at least 60 Afghans were killed and 143 wounded.
In his speech on Thursday, Biden said the U.S. has some idea of who perpetrated the attacks. He added that the U.S. will not be deterred by terrorists and vowed to hunt them down.
“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anybody who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay,” said Biden during his remarks from the White House.
Biden said he had ordered his commanders 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 at the moment of our choosing,” said Biden.
Biden called those killed in the attacks “heroes” who were part of a mission unlike any other.
“These American service members who gave their lives – it’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate here – were heroes, heroes who’ve been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others,” said Biden. “They were part of an airlift, an evacuation effort unlike any seen in history, with more than 100,000 American citizens, American partners, Afghans who helped us, and others were taken to safety in the last 11 days.”
After the president spoke, White House press secretary Jen Psaki added that the flag would be flown at half staff at the White House and all federal buildings until Aug. 30, in honor of the victims of the Kabul attacks.
Psaki was asked how the United States could still work with the Taliban. Psaki said, "I am not going to try to sugarcoat what we think of the Taliban. The Taliban is not a group we trust. They are not a friend."
Psaki said over the last 11 days, 104,000 people have been evacuated out of Afghanistan. They have evacuated 7,000 people in the last 12 to 13 hours.
"We are working on getting every American citizen out before Aug. 31," Psaki said.
When asked about two Republican senators calling on President Biden to resign, Psaki said, “This is a day where US service members, 12 of them, lost their lives at the hands of terrorists. It’s not a day for politics.”
Watch Biden's remarks below:
Thursday's explosions come after the U.S. and other western nations warned of a potential ISIS-K attack at the airport on Wednesday night. According to the reports, Britain warned that an attack could occur "within hours," while Belgium warned that the attack could come from a suicide bombing.
ISIS-K is a division of the Islamic State group that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. During his remarks, McKenzie said the threat from ISIS is extremely real.
“We believe it is their desire to continue those attacks, and we expect those attacks to continue, and we’re doing everything we can to be prepared for those attacks,” he said. “That includes reaching out to the Taliban who are actually providing the outer security around the airfield to make sure they know what we expect them to do to protect us, and we will continue to coordinate with them as they go forward.”
President Biden addressed the potential threat of attacks at the airport in remarks on Wednesday.
"Every day that we're on the ground is another day that we know ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both the U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians," Biden said.
The U.S. has imposed an Aug. 31 deadline to remove all troops and military personnel from Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Biden said he would adhere to that deadline.
As the country's evacuation continues, McKenzie said the U.S. would continue to focus on the protection of our forces and the evacuees.
“Let me be clear: while we’re saddened by the loss of life, both U.S. and Afghan, we’re continuing to execute the mission,” said McKenzie. “Our mission is to evacuate U.S. citizens, third-country nationals, special immigrant visa holders, U.S. embassy staff, and Afghans at risk.”
As of Thursday, McKenzie said the U.S. has approximately 5,000 evacuees awaiting airlift. Since Aug. 14, he says the U.S. has evacuated more than 104,000 civilians from the airport, over 66,000 from the U.S., and over 37,000 from allies and partners.
McKenzie says the U.S. military believes a little more than 1,000 American citizens are left in Afghanistan as of Thursday. He says the U.S. military is doing everything to help those people leave the country if they want to.