WHITE HOUSE (August 27, 2021)— The U.S. Embassy urged U.S. citizens not to come to the Kabul airport because of security threats and to leave immediately if they were near any of four gates to the airport, according to a statement on the State Department website Friday.
The warning comes one day after a suicide bomber killed more than 170 Afghans, according to press reports, and 13 U.S. service members outside Kabul’s airport on Thursday, the U.S. Defense Department said Friday.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at the briefing the U.S. believes there are other “specific, credible” threats against the airport, noting that “we certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts.”
The security threats have made the evacuation of Americans and some Afghans more difficult.
“There doesn’t appear to be any concerted effort to get SIVs [Special Immigrant Visa holders] out at this point,” a State Department official told VOA from Hamid Karzai International Airport. But the department is still trying to evacuate local embassy staff, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
Thursday’s deadly attack was carried out by a single suicide bomber, not two as previously believed, the Defense Department said Friday.
“It’s not any surprise that the confusion of very dynamic events like this can cause information sometimes to be misreported or garbled,” U.S. Army General Hank Taylor told reporters at a Pentagon media briefing.
He went on to say, “we do not believe that there was a second explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, that it was one suicide bomber.” But many witnesses reported hearing two blasts, The New York Times reported.
Despite the risks, crowds of people desperate to leave Afghanistan gathered outside Kabul’s airport early Friday as evacuation flights resumed.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the crowds dispersed later Friday amid rumors that another terror attack was imminent. A VOA reporter who visited the area late Friday morning saw mostly empty streets with Taliban security blocking access to streets near the airport.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a report on its news agency’s Telegram channel, hours after the blast. A suicide bomber, with about 11 kilograms of explosives containing shrapnel, U.S. officials said, struck near the Abbey Gate on the perimeter of the airport. A gun battle occurred after the bombings, said U.S. General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, during a Pentagon news briefing.
A regional offshoot of the Islamic State group known as ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, has been blamed for the attacks.
U.S. President Joe Biden is vowing vengeance on those responsible.
“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive,” Biden said in a nationally broadcast address. “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
Biden said he had ordered commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities, saying, “We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing.”
When asked if the U.S. is capable of simultaneously planning and executing counterattacks while leading the evacuation, Taylor said, “We have resources with the Centcom commander, with the commanders on the ground and the capabilities to allow us to execute any type of those operations.”
About 170 Afghans died in the attack, according to The New York Times, The Associated Press and Afghan news agency Pajhwok. Including the 13 American service members, nearly 200 people died.
The U.S. service members who were killed included 11 Marines, one on his first tour in Afghanistan, a Navy sailor and an Army soldier.
Two British citizens and the child of another were killed in the blast, Dominic Raab, British foreign minister said.
Eighteen injured American military personnel were evacuated from Afghanistan on specially equipped C-17s with surgical units, according to Captain Bill Urban, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command.
Taylor said that two flights carrying injured service members arrived Friday in Germany, and the personnel were transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for treatment.
About 109,000 people have left Afghanistan on evacuation flights since Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban entered Kabul, and a total of almost 115,000 people since the end of July, a White House official said late Friday.
Taylor said that more than 300 Americans had been evacuated since Thursday, increasing the total to about 5,100 since the evacuations began. He said the State Department continues to process evacuations, despite the risks.
“Some gates have been closed … but American citizens, SIV applicants and vulnerable Afghans who have the designated and proper credentials will continue to be processed for departure from the airfield.”
Meanwhile, Kirby said Friday the Pentagon has authorized three military installations in the U.S. to join four other U.S. military bases in providing “support to the U.S. mission to evacuate Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants, their families and other at-risk individuals.”
Biden vowed Thursday the evacuations would continue until the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all troops. More than 20 allies helped with the evacuations. Most have completed their operations.
“We will get Americans out who want to get out,” the president said.
Some information for this report came from VOA, the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.