Friday, January 21

Kabul attacks kill 12 US servicemen, at least 60 Afghans


Two explosions outside Kabul International Airport killed 12 US service members and at least 60 Afghans, and wounded dozens more, less than a week before US forces left. Pentagon officials said Islamic State terrorists were likely to blame.

In addition to those killed in Thursday’s attacks, 15 US servicemen were injured and the Associated Press reported at least 143 Afghan casualties. It was the deadliest day for the US military in about a decade.

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President Joe Biden began an address to the nation from the White House Thursday night by saying, “Difficult day.” He said the United States would not change its plans to evacuate thousands more from Kabul before August 31, and vowed to pursue the terrorists behind the attacks.

“We will rescue the Americans who are there, we will take out our Afghan allies,” Biden said. “For those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes harm to the United States, know this: we will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down, and we will make you pay.”

Evacuations continue

General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, told reporters that evacuations at the airport continued in the hours after the bombing. He said that Islamic State terrorists were believed to be responsible for the attack and that more attacks are possible.

“The threat from ISIS is extremely real,” McKenzie said. “ISIS will not prevent us from accomplishing the mission, I can assure you.”

McKenzie said his “working assumption” is that a suicide bomber passed Taliban checkpoints near the airport’s abbey gate and was trying to reach the airport compound. After the first bomb went off, one or more militants began to spray the crowd with bullets, he said. Then there was a second detonation, near a nearby hotel.

US forces had no choice but to risk closely treating Afghans at the gates of the Kabul airport to protect those entering, McKenzie said. “You don’t want someone on a plane carrying a bomb,” he said.

The top US general in the Middle East also said his forces have on occasion shared intelligence with Taliban officials to help reduce the threat from groups like the Islamic State. He said the Taliban share the US goal of pulling out all US forces next week. Biden defended that approach in his speech.

“It is not a question of trust, it is a question of mutual interests,” Biden said in his comments. “They are not the good guys, the Taliban.”

The death of US troops, after some 104,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan in the past two weeks, will increase pressure on Biden, especially from members of Congress, to push back his August 31 deadline. It will also focus scrutiny on America’s inability to forecast the sudden collapse of the Afghan government.

But Biden pointed out that the attack would not change the United States’ calculation.

“We will not allow them to stop our mission,” Biden said. “We will continue the evacuation. I also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to attack ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities. ”

Thursday’s explosions came after US and NATO officials warned their citizens to avoid heading to the airport. To the US The official said flights out of Kabul have been temporarily stopped.

The Taliban blamed the United States, which is leading a military evacuation from Kabul, for drawing large crowds to the perimeter of the airport.

“We strongly condemn this deadly attack that occurred in an area of ​​the Kabul airport that is under American control,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said by phone. “They are responsible for the security of the area.”

The blasts occurred around the time Biden was scheduled to meet with his national security team on the situation in Afghanistan. He then cleaned up an in-person meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, which was rescheduled for Friday, as well as a virtual meeting with governors to discuss hosting Afghan refugees.

Following the attack, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson organized a meeting of the government’s emergency committee on Thursday, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel canceled a planned trip to Israel.

“The explosion happened among a large crowd at the Abbey gate, where the Americans are examining and prosecuting people,” said Mustafa Shah, an Afghan who was close to the blast and took an injured friend to hospital, in a phone call. Shah said he saw body parts on the ground and “10 to 15 people” who appeared to be dead.

Afghans and others trying to flee Kabul have crowded around the airport to try to get on one of the many military flights leaving the country.

After the explosion, European military officials sent a message to the citizens of the country saying: “Stay away from the airport. Very, very, very dangerous situation. Go now! “According to Dina Haynes, a lawyer who brought a client to the Kabul airport compound a few minutes before the blast.

Earlier this week, Biden cited Islamic State – Khorasan, the Afghan branch of the terror group, as a potential threat to Americans in Kabul.

“They are real and significant challenges that we must also take into account the longer we stay, starting with the acute and growing risk of an attack from a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an affiliate of ISIS in Afghanistan, which is a sworn enemy. from the Taliban too, ”Biden said Tuesday. “Every day that we are on the ground is another day that we know that ISIS-K is trying to target the airport and attack both US and allied forces and innocent civilians.”

The president defended his decision to stick to the late August deadline and pull US troops out of Afghanistan.

“It was time to end a 20-year war.”

© 2021 Bloomberg


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