WASHINGTON — The U.S. general overseeing the evacuation from Afghanistan says the United States will “go after” the perpetrators of the Kabul airport attacks if they can be found.
Gen. Frank McKenzie said the attacks on Thursday were believed to have been carried out by fighters associated with the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate.
He said the attacks, which killed 12 U.S. service members, would not stop the United States from continuing its evacuation of Americans and others. McKenzie warned there are still “extremely active” security threats at the airport in the Afghan capital.
“We expect these attacks to continue,” he said, adding that Taliban commanders have been asked to take additional security measures to prevent another suicide bombing on the airport’s perimeter. He said he sees no indication that the Taliban allowed Thursday’s attacks to happen.
One of the bombers struck people standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water. Those who moments earlier had hoped to get on flights out could be seen carrying the wounded to ambulances in a daze, their own clothes darkened with blood.
A U.S. official said the complex attack was believed to have been carried out by the Islamic State group. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan is far more radical than the Taliban, who recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz and condemned the attack.
Western officials had warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport, but that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the U.S. officially ends its 20-year presence on Aug. 31.
At least 13 people died and 15 were wounded, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which gave the first official casualty count. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also confirmed the blasts and said there were casualties but gave no figure. He said one explosion was near an airport entrance and another was a short distance away by a hotel.
The White House hurriedly put off President Joe Biden’s first in-person meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Thursday and canceled a video conference with governors on incoming Afghan refugees after more than a dozen people were killed in explosions outside the airport in the Afghan capital, where throngs of people are scrambling to get to planes and evacuate.
Biden was to host Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new prime minister, who is on his first visit to the U.S. since taking office. Biden also had planned to meet virtually with a bipartisan group of governors who have said they want to help resettle Afghan refugees fleeing their now Taliban-ruled country.
But deadly developments in the Afghan capital of Kabul forced the White House to tear up the president’s schedule, as he monitored the airport situation that was prompted by the Tuesday deadline he set for removing American citizens and troops from Afghanistan.
The explosions detonated as the U.S. worked to get remaining Americans out of the country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that as many as 1,500 Americans may be awaiting evacuation.
Asked during an interview with ABC News about reports the evacuation could end on Friday, Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, declined to comment.
Wilson said “there are safe ways to get to” the airport for those Americans who still want to leave. He added that “there undoubtedly will be” some at-risk Afghans who will not get out before Biden’s deadline.
The airlift continued Thursday despite warnings of vehicle-borne bomb threats near the airport. The White House said 13,400 people had been evacuated in the 24 hours that ended early Thursday morning Washington time. Those included 5,100 people aboard U.S. military planes and 8,300 on coalition and partner aircraft. That was a substantial drop from the 19,000 airlifted by all means the day before.