U.S. Marines take a moment to rest at an evacuation checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 20, 2021.
US Marines | Reuters
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said in a statement on Saturday that his national security team had warned that an attack on the Kabul airport was “very likely in the next 24-36 hours.”
“The situation on the ground remains extremely dangerous and the risk of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high,” said Biden, adding that he had instructed US commanders “to take all possible measures to give priority to protecting the armed forces.”
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters Thursday that ISIS will likely attempt to continue the attacks before the evacuations are complete.
“We believe that it is their desire to continue these attacks and we expect these attacks to continue,” the four-star general told reporters at the Pentagon, adding that the US has an “extremely active threat stream against the US Airfield “monitored.
McKenzie, who oversees US military operations in the area, said threats against Western forces and civilians at the airport ranged from gunshots to missiles to suicide bombings.
“So, at any time, there can be very, very real streams of threats that we would call tactical and imminent,” he said. McKenzie said he did not plan to call in additional US troops for the mission.
The latest threat analysis follows a US drone attack on Friday that killed two senior IS-K members in Afghanistan.
“I said we would pursue the group responsible for attacking our troops and innocent civilians in Kabul, and we did,” Biden said of the drone attack. “This strike was not the last,” he added. “We will continue to prosecute everyone involved in this heinous attack and make them pay,” the president said.
The US attack came less than two days after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive near the gates of Kabul airport, killing 13 American soldiers.
The Pentagon said Saturday the attack targeted two IS-K members believed to have been involved in planning attacks against US forces in Kabul. Army Major William Taylor said there were no known civilian casualties following the attack.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US did not notify or coordinate with the Taliban prior to the attack. He added that the Department of Defense had not notified any other countries in the region or US lawmakers.
The Pentagon also confirmed that the US military in Kabul has begun to step backwards or to withdraw from the country. Kirby said fewer than 5,000 soldiers remain in the country, adding that the US would no longer provide the exact number for security reasons.
In the past 24 hours, Western forces evacuated 6,800 people from Kabul on 66 military cargo plane flights. Since the mass evacuations began on August 14, around 111,900 people have been flown out of Afghanistan.
Around 117,500 people have been evacuated since the end of July, including around 5,400 US citizens and their families.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday that about 500 Americans are still seeking evacuation.