The United States says it is bracing for repeat attacks by the ISIS terrorist group following Thursday’s lethal blasts outside Kabul’s international airport that left at least 85 dead, including 13 U.S. troops.
Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, shortly after the attacks, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command, said he expected attacks by ISIS to continue, including possibly rockets or car-bombs targeting the airport.
U.S. forces are doing everything possible to prepare for those attacks, he said.
ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate, claimed responsibility for the blasts, bragging about a suicide bomber “managing to penetrate all the security fortifications” put into place by U.S. forces and the Taliban.
“The threat from ISIS is extremely real,” McKenzie warned on Thursday. “We’ve been talking about this several days, we saw it actually manifest itself here in the last few hours, with an actual attack.”
He said the United States believes it is the terrorist group’s “desire” to continue those attacks.
“We expect those attacks to continue. And we’re doing everything we can to be prepared for those attacks,” he added.
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.
A health official and a Taliban official said the toll of Afghans killed had risen to 72, including 28 Taliban members, although a Taliban spokesman later denied that any of their fighters guarding the airport perimeter had been killed.
The U.S. military said 13 of its service members were killed.
In an address to the nation from the White House on Thursday, President Joe Biden vowed to 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.
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.”
— Natiq Malikzada (@natiqmalikzada) August 27, 2021
Founded in 2015, Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, is a sworn enemy of the Taliban and the United States. It had been quiet since Kabul was taken over by the terrorist group on Aug. 15, raising concerns that it had been plotting a large-scale attack.
ISIS deems the Taliban’s rule to be insufficiently Islamic, and believes the terrorist group prides themselves for their focus on global, not local, jihad.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said that it was conducting a “Taliban investigation” into the attacks.
Bruce Hoffman, a senior fellow for counterterrorism and homeland security at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Politico on Thursday that the Taliban is “overwhelmed.”
“They are very effective at bullying and victimizing civilians, but they are incompetent at battling groups that look like themselves,” he added.
Biden on Thursday said he and First Lady Jill Biden are “outraged” by the attacks and “heartbroken” for the losses, adding that their hearts are aching for the families who lost loved ones.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the U.S. flag will be flown at half-staff until the evening of Aug. 30, to honor the victims killed in the terrorist attack on Aug. 26.
“As a mark for respect, starting today, the United States flag will be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds … until sunset on Aug. 30, 2021, in honor of the victims of the senseless acts of violence in Kabul,” Psaki said.
Biden said that he is also directing that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.
Meanwhile, the United States is racing to complete evacuations as time runs out ahead of Biden’s self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline to pull out remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
McKenzie said on Thursday that there were still about 1,000 American citizens in the country.
Reuters contributed to this report.