Skip to main content

President Joe Biden speaks about the bombings at the Kabul airport that killed at least 13 U.S. service members, from the East Room of the White House, on Aug. 26, 2021.Evan Vucci/The Associated Press

U.S. President Joe Biden is vowing to complete the evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from Afghanistan despite bombings and gunfire by ISIS-K terrorists that killed at least 90 Afghans and 13 American troops near Kabul’s airport.

And he stood by his decision to end the two-decade U.S. invasion of the country, even as he left the door open to using more limited military operations to kill or capture the people behind the attack.

“We will not forgive,” the President said Thursday, in the hours after the violence. “We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”

A moment of silence was held at the White House for the dead.

“We can and we must complete this mission, and we will,” Mr. Biden said. “We will not be deterred by terrorists.”

Evacuations resume after Kabul bombings, death toll now over 100

The bloodshed added to the chaos around the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan mere days before the last U.S. troops are scheduled to leave on Aug. 31. The President did not say if that deadline is still firm, but he said the bombings highlighted why it was necessary to leave.

“I’ve repeatedly said that this mission was extraordinarily dangerous, which is why I was so determined to limit the duration of this mission,” he said, adding that the U.S. will focus on surgical strikes against specific terrorist groups instead.

The attacks came as thousands of Afghans – many of whom worked for the U.S. and its allies, including Canada – sought entry to the airport to flee the country after its takeover by the Taliban. They happened shortly after Canada announced it would not send any more evacuation flights because the United States needs the runway.

ISIS-K, a rival group to the Taliban, dispatched a suicide bomber to the Abbey Gate, an airport checkpoint where U.S. troops were reviewing the documentation of Afghans seeking to leave the country, the U.S. military said. Another bomb went off at the Baron Hotel, which British troops had been using as a staging area for evacuees.

Islamic State in Afghanistan

Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), the Islamic State affiliate, has claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks outside the Kabul airport, which killed multiple people, on Thursday.

Provinces with reported presence of militant groups

As of June, 2021. Groups may conduct operations outside of these provinces.

ISIS-K

Formed in 2015, ISIS-K was once concentrated in Nangarhar Province

Haqqani Network

Official, semi-autonomous component of the Afghan Taliban and an ally of al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)

TAJIKISTAN

TURKMENISTAN

Kabul

AFGHANISTAN

Nangarhar

Province

Kandahar

PAKISTAN

SOURCE: REUTERS

Islamic State in Afghanistan

Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), the Islamic State affiliate, has claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks outside the Kabul airport, which killed multiple people, on Thursday.

Provinces with reported presence of militant groups

As of June, 2021. Groups may conduct operations outside of these provinces.

ISIS-K

Formed in 2015, ISIS-K was once concentrated in Nangarhar Province

Haqqani Network

Official, semi-autonomous component of the Afghan Taliban and an ally of al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)

UZBEKISTAN

TAJIKISTAN

TURKMENISTAN

Kabul

AFGHANISTAN

Nangarhar

Province

Kandahar

PAKISTAN

SOURCE: REUTERS

Islamic State in Afghanistan

Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), the Islamic State affiliate, has claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks outside the Kabul airport, which killed multiple people, on Thursday.

Provinces with reported presence of militant groups

As of June, 2021. Groups may conduct operations outside of these provinces.

Haqqani Network

Official, semi-autonomous component of the Afghan Taliban and an ally of al-Qaeda

ISIS-K

Formed in 2015, ISIS-K was once concentrated in Nangarhar Province

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent

Al-Qaeda

TAJIKISTAN

UZBEKISTAN

TURKMENISTAN

IRAN

Kabul

Nangarhar Province

AFGHANISTAN

Kandahar

PAKISTAN

INDIA

SOURCE: REUTERS

Video from Abbey Gate showed hundreds of dead and wounded Afghans, including children, lying outside an airport perimeter fence and in an adjacent canal.

Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie said the United States has been relying on Taliban fighters to “protect” the airport. The Taliban has co-operated with U.S. forces because they are also eager to see them out of the country and want to help make that happen, he said. He added that Afghanistan should brace for more bloodshed.

“The threat from ISIS is completely real. We expect those attacks to continue,” he said, adding that the U.S. is “reaching out to the Taliban” to co-ordinate airport security.

The State Department said 1,000 U.S. citizens are still in Afghanistan and that the U.S. government has been in contact with all of them to help them leave.

For some, the attack highlighted the tumult of the U.S. retreat.

“It’s the hundredth symptom of a much larger disaster, and the disaster here is not the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, the disaster is the complete breakdown in the chain of command in the American military, diplomatic and aid apparatus,” said Daniel Esser, an expert on Afghanistan at American University in Washington.

People on the ground have been warning for a decade that Afghan government forces could not withstand the Taliban, he said, but the Biden administration was seemingly caught off-guard when the terror group rapidly took over the country earlier this month.

Gordon Adams, a White House national security budget official in the 1990s, contended that, given Afghanistan has suffered regular terrorist attacks for years, it was not clear that Mr. Biden’s decision to pull out would make terrorism more likely. The invasion of Afghanistan failed long ago, and the withdrawal was just an acknowledgment of reality, he said.

“This has been mission impossible from the very beginning,” he said. “You cannot just invade another person’s country.”

Still, Mr. Biden faced political pressure on Thursday to ramp up the U.S. military’s presence in Afghanistan.

Bob Menendez, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for the U.S. to do more to control the area around the airport. “We can’t trust the Taliban with Americans’ security,” he said in a statement.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called on the President to recapture Bagram Air Base from the Taliban and use it to run evacuation flights. It was the U.S.’s largest base in the country, but American troops abandoned it earlier this summer as part of the withdrawal.

“The retaking of Bagram would put our military at risk, but I think those involved in the operation would gladly accept that risk because it would restore our honour as a nation and save lives,” Mr. Graham tweeted.

But Mr. Biden held fast. He laid much of the blame for the difficult retreat on former president Donald Trump, who cut a deal with the Taliban and agreed to pull U.S. troops out by May. Mr. Trump did not make concrete plans for how this would actually happen, Mr. Biden said, which left his administration scrambling to sort out the logistics when it took power in January.

Either way, the President said, he was determined to get U.S. troops out of the country. And he said he had never believed there was any point to being in Afghanistan beyond hunting down al-Qaeda after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I have never been of the view that we should be sacrificing American lives to try to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan, a country that has never once in its entire history been a united country,” Mr. Biden said. “Ladies and gentlemen, it was time to end a 20-year war.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.