WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden vowed to respond “with force” to the terrorists who killed 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans in suicide bombings outside the Kabul airport Thursday.
“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,” Biden said. “We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and at the moment of our choosing.”
ISIS claimed responsibility for the “martyrdom attack,” which killed at least 95 Afghans and wounded more than 100, according to the Associated Press.
Speaking from the White House, Biden said he had ordered his commanders to develop plans to strike assets, leaders and facilities of ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State, the terrorist group better known as ISIS, who he said had been planning a “complex” set of attacks on U.S. military personnel in recent days.
Biden also promised to continue evacuation efforts and said his military advisers remained committed to the withdrawal deadline of Tuesday, even though they would work to get people out of the country after the deadline. In the previous 12 hours, Biden said, more than 7,000 people were evacuated.
“We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission,” he said. “We will continue the evacuation.”
Two suicide bombers struck a crowded area outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, where people were gathered trying to flee the country. One attack occurred at a dense checkpoint where U.S. service members were searching people for bombs and weapons before they boarded flights. The other attack occurred at the nearby Baron Hotel.
In addition to the 13 U.S. service members who were killed, 18 others were wounded. The Defense Department was unable to say how many Afghans were killed or injured.
The Associated Press reported the number was at least 60, with more than 140 Afghans wounded.
Members of Biden’s national security team learned of the first explosion as they gathered in the Situation Room on Thursday morning for a scheduled meeting with the president. As the situation unraveled, the White House announced that a number of events on Biden’s schedule had been postponed, including an in-person meeting with Naftali Bennett, the new prime minister of Israel, as well as a virtual meeting with a group of bipartisan governors who are helping to resettle Afghan evacuees.
White House officials said Biden was briefed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin; Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff; and commanders on the ground.
Biden had warned in recent days about a growing risk of a terrorist attack and argued for sticking to his deadline to complete the U.S. military withdrawal by Aug. 31. In a speech Tuesday, Biden said: “Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians.”
ISIS-K is a sworn enemy of both the U.S. and the Taliban.
The U.S. Embassy warned Americans on Wednesday to stay away from the Kabul airport and told anyone outside the airport to “leave immediately.”
Democrats and Republicans have pressured Biden in recent days to extend the evacuation operations past Tuesday out of concern that not all Americans and Afghan allies would be able to get out by the deadline. After a shaky start, the pace of evacuations increased in recent days, with more than 70,000 people having been evacuated since mid-August, according to the White House.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., blamed Biden for allowing the attack to happen, saying in a statement that he “has neither the capacity nor the will to lead. He must resign.”
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday that about 1,000 Americans are still in Afghanistan but that not all of them wanted to leave the country.
Biden was criticized for not being better prepared for the withdrawal after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan’s capital Aug. 14, abruptly ending the 20-year U.S. effort to restructure the Afghan government and its military.
Biden has maintained that staying longer in Afghanistan would not improve the situation.
When he was in office, then-President Donald Trump negotiated a deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. military personnel by May 1 of this year. After he was inaugurated, Biden said the withdrawal would be completed by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; he later upped the deadline to Aug. 31.
Biden insisted last month that a Taliban takeover was not inevitable and that the Afghan military was well-equipped and trained to keep the group at bay. “I trust the capacity of the Afghan military,” he said at the time.
A recent NBC News poll found that just 25 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan, while 60 percent disapprove. The poll was conducted Aug. 14-17 — before, during and after Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, fell to the Taliban.
CORRECTION (Aug. 26, 2021, 7:35 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when the Taliban took control of Kabul. It was Aug. 14, not last Sunday.