Thirteen U.S. service members were killed in a terrorist bomb attack outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26.
An initial report from Pentagon officials indicated that 11 Marines and one Navy medic were among those who were killed; another service member died hours later, according to The Associated Press. At least 18 service members were wounded and officials warned the toll could grow, AP reported.
The deaths mark the first U.S. military combat-related deaths in Afghanistan since February 2020.
The terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, bragging about a suicide bomber “managing to penetrate all the security fortifications” put into place by U.S. forces and the Taliban.
The ISIS terrorist “managed to reach a large gathering of translators and collaborators with the American army, and then he detonated his explosive belt,” the group said in a statement. It claimed the attacker was able to get within five meters of U.S. troops at an eastern gate to the airport. Another explosion struck a nearby hotel, the Pentagon said.
President Joe Biden said at the White House on Aug. 26 that the United States will strike ISIS in retaliation for the bombings.
“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I’ll defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command,” Biden said in an address to the nation about the attack.
The president has directed military officials to draw up plans to strike ISIS facilities and fighters.
“We will respond with force and precision at our time, at a place we choose, at a moment of our choosing,” he said.
“These ISIS terrorists will not win. America will not be intimidated.”
Biden spoke about seven hours after the explosions went off at the U.S.-held airport in Kabul. He and administration officials, save for a short briefing from a U.S. general, had gone dark following the attack, prompting calls for his resignation by some leading Republicans.
Biden described himself and First Lady Jill Biden as “outraged” and “heartbroken” for the losses, adding that their hearts are aching for the families who lost loved ones.
He related how his late son, Beau Biden, died of cancer after serving in the military, saying that that kind of loss feels “like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a statement expressed his “deepest condolences” to the loved ones and teammates of those who were killed and wounded in Kabul.
“Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others. We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief. But we will not be dissuaded from the task at hand,” he said. “To do anything less—especially now—would dishonor the purpose and sacrifice these men and women have rendered our country and the people of Afghanistan.”
The bombings took place at or near the Abbey Gate, which sits on the eastern side of the airport, late on Aug. 26 local time. One bomb went off at the gate before at least one other exploded near the Baron Hotel, situated a short distance from the gate.
Photographs showed injured and bloodied people, with dozens of Afghans among those wounded or killed.
Kabul health officials were quoted as saying that at least 60 Afghan civilians were killed in the attack, reported Reuters.
The World Watches
Other world leaders warned that the situation at the airport is dangerous and unstable, with just days left before the United States is slated to withdraw the rest of its troops.
“The next hours will remain extremely dangerous in Kabul and at the airport,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters while visiting Ireland.
ISIS published a photograph of a man it claimed conducted one of the suicide bombings and described the explosions as targeting American forces and their “spies.”
It also threatened additional attacks.
While the exact circumstances of the attack are under investigation, the preliminary understanding of the initial explosion is a suicide bomber got to the gate before triggering a bomb.
U.S. troops are in position at the gates to vet people trying to get through. The vetting includes checking for bombs or other weapons.
“There’s no substitute for a young man or woman, a young United States man or woman, standing up there conducting a search of that person before we let them on,” McKenzie said.
Before the first bomb was detonated, 104,000 people had been let through the gates to Hamid Karzai International Airport. Many of them were Afghans who are fleeing the country after assisting U.S. troops during the decades-long war.
The Taliban has been vetting people at their checkpoints before letting them pass, but sometimes those searches aren’t thorough.
The United States began controlling the airport around the time the Taliban took over the country. It’s the only territory that the U.S. military controls ahead of the planned withdrawal on Aug. 31.
“Right now, our focus is actually going forward ensuring another attack of this nature does not occur, because as you know the pattern is typically multiple attacks,” McKenzie said.
The Taliban, which took over Afghanistan in mid-July, had been cooperating with U.S. troops to carry out mass evacuations in the country. There’s no indication the Taliban was involved in the attack or let it happen, Biden said, echoing comments by Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of the U.S. Central Command.
Fresh explosions rocked the Kabul airport late Aug. 26. A Taliban spokesman said the explosions were set off by U.S. forces “to destroy their equipment,” stoking fear that Americans may withdraw before the Aug. 31 deadline set by Biden.
But the president said the plan is, as of now, to remain until the deadline.
People still need help escaping the country, including Americans, the president said, adding: “The military’s concluded that’s what we should do. I think they’re right. I think they’re correct.”
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report