Biden warns to avenge attackers; 113 people killed at Kabul airport
WASHINGTON: An emotional US President Joe Biden has vowed that his country would hunt down those responsible for twin explosions at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan and said he had asked the Pentagon to develop plans to strike back at them.
Biden spoke hours after the blasts American troops and scores of civilians, the worst day of casualties for US forces there in a decade as about 113 people killed in blasts at Kabul Airport.
The BBC quoting Afghan health officials said the number of dead in the twin bomb blasts has risen to 90, while the number of injured was over 150. The Pentagon confirmed that 13 US Servicemen were among those killed in the deadly blasts.
A statement from the US Central Command said another US service member died following the attack at the Kabul airport Thursday raising the total to 13 US service members while the number of injured were now 18. According to Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for CENTCOM:
“I can confirm that subsequent to Gen. [Kenneth “Frank” ] McKenzie’s remarks, a thirteenth US service member has died from his wounds suffered as a result of the attack on Abbey Gate,” Urban said. “The latest number of injured is now 18.”
President Joe Biden in an address to the nation warned the terrorists behind the Kabul airport attack: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said in early evening remarks from the White House.
Daesh Khorasan (Daesh-K), an affiliate of militants who previously battled US forces in Syria and Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack.“We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.
He promised US evacuations would continue. “We will not be deterred by terrorists, we will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuations,” he said.
Vice President Kamala Harris canceled her plan to campaign for California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election on Sept. 14, on her way home from a trip to Asia, and will instead return to Washington, her staff said.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Biden was sticking to his Tuesday pullout target for withdrawing US forces, saying he was doing so on the advice of military advisers concerned about more attacks.
She said Biden was working to get out every American who wanted out by the deadline. “Our commitment to them does not end,” she said.
Biden said he had ordered US military commanders to develop operational plans to strike Daesh-K assets, leadership, and facilities. “We will find ways of our choosing, without large military operations, to get them,” he said.
He appeared to be fighting back tears and his voice cracked with emotion as he talked about the American “heroes” who died. He ordered flags at the White House and public buildings around the country to be lowered to half staff. “It’s been a tough day,” he said.
The president said he had told the US military: “Whatever they need, if they need additional force, I will grant it.”
Biden defended his handling of his most serious foreign policy crisis, saying ultimately it is his responsibility, while assigning some blame to his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, for the 2020 agreement Trump negotiated with the Taliban.
He said he did not trust the Taliban but believed it was in the group’s interest to let the evacuations continue.
Psaki said the United States also had “an enormous amount of leverage” — including economic leverage — over the Taliban, which are subject to US and UN sanctions.
The Afghan government has also long relied on transfers of dollars from their central bank assets, many of which are held in the United States. An administration official said any such assets would not be made available to the Taliban.
A US Central Command spokesperson said 18 soldiers wounded in the attack were “in the process of being aero-medically evacuated from Afghanistan on specially equipped C-17s with embarked surgical units”.
A Taliban official lamented the number of Taliban members killed in the ISIS attack.
“We have lost more people than the Americans in the airport blast,” a Taliban official said, adding that the Taliban was “not responsible for the chaotic evacuation plan prepared by foreign nations”.
A Nato country diplomat in Kabul said all foreign forces were aiming to evacuate their citizens and embassy employees by Aug 30.
The Taliban would tighten security around the airport, said the diplomat who declined to be identified.
“Security is their responsibility,” the diplomat said, adding that the Taliban should investigate the Islamic State network.
Western countries fear that the Taliban, who once sheltered Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, will allow Afghanistan to turn again into a haven for militants. The Taliban say they will not let the country be used by terrorists.
The United States would press on with evacuations despite the threat of further attacks, McKenzie said, noting that there were still about 1,000 US citizens in Afghanistan.
The pace of evacuation flights had accelerated on Friday and American passport holders had been allowed to enter the airport compound, said a Western security official stationed inside the airport.
In the past 12 days, Western countries have evacuated nearly 100,000 people. But they acknowledge that thousands will be left behind when the last US troops leave at the end of the month.