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The UK evacuation mission in Afghanistan will end ‘in a matter of hours’ and the 1,000 people already inside Kabul airport will be the last to be found out, a British minister has revealed.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said British forces will try to ‘find a few people in the crowds’ that they are able to evacuate but admitted that not everyone will be flown out to safety.
The effort will now focus on evacuating UK nationals and others who have already been cleared to leave and are already at the airport.
Mr Wallace said: ‘We will process the people that we’ve brought with us, the 1,000 people approximately in the airfield now and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed and we have a matter of hours.’
‘It is with deep regret that not everyone has been able to be evacuated during this process,’ he added in a statement.
At least 90 people, including 13 American service personell were killed by ISIS-K terrorists in a double suicide attack on Kabul airport on Thursday.
US President Joe Biden promised on Thursday to hunt down and destroy the ISIS-K terrorists. He made the retaliation threat last night as he joined Boris Johnson in vowing to continue the evacuation efforts despite a ‘continued’ risk of further bombings by the terrorist group which is an enemy of the Taliban who are in control of the country.
The jihadist group, an off-shoot of the terrorist organisation Islamic State (IS), last night claimed responsibility for double bombing, which is believed to have killed at least 90 people and injured more than 150 others.
Biden paid tribute to the ‘selfless heroes’ who died helping vulnerable people to safety, but delivered a stern warning to the Islamic state offshoot behind the blasts that killed 11 U.S. Marines, a Navy medic and another service member screening evacuees at the airport gates.
The two locations targeted in the bombings were the Abbey Gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport, where US troops were screening Afghans for evacuation, and the nearby Baron Hotel, where thousands including Afghans, Britons and Americans, were told to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation.
The Pentagon warned there is still an imminent threat of attack at the airport and have now been told to draw up strike plans to hit ISIS-K assets and leadership, despite being in the process of withdrawing all its forces from Afghanistan.
‘For those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive, we will not forget,’ Biden said in an address at the White House. ‘We will hunt you down and make you pay.’
The Prime Minister also condemned yesterday’s terror attack, which is not believed to have claimed the lives of any British troops or officials.
He also vowed to continue the rescue effort at Kabul airport, where last night brave British troops were seen sweeping the perimeter following the ‘barbaric’ double bombing.
Prior to yesterday’s attack, UK officials had stated there were 11 British rescue flights still scheduled to flight out from Afghanistan.
And speaking about the bombings, after chairing an emergency COBRA meeting at Downing Street, Mr Johnson said the evacuations were set to continue. He said: ‘We’ve been ready for it, we’ve been prepared for it.
‘And I want to stress that we’re going to continue with that operation – and we’re now coming towards the end of it, to the very end of it, in any event.
‘But, clearly, what this attack shows is the importance of continuing that work in as fast and as efficient manner as possible in the hours that remain to us, and that’s what we’re going to do.’
Biden spoke to the nation Thursday and took questions from the press after a day of consulting with his national security team and senior generals, while Republicans said he had ‘blood on his hands’ and demanded he resign or be impeached.
He admitted that he must take responsibility for everything that has happened in Afghanistan since deciding to withdraw – including the deaths of 13 service members – but stood by his decision to leave by August 31 and insisted the military timeline wouldn’t change.
It comes as:
- Islamic State last night claimed responsibility for the deadly Kabul airport attacks and named one suicide bomber on social media;
- Intelligence experts questioned how Biden would strike back after withdrawing all US forces from Afghanistan and handing the country to the Taliban
- Sky News reporter Stuart Ramsay accused the UK military of covering up Kabul chaos as he is flown out of Afghanistan on ‘MoD orders’ prior to the attack;
- Former British Commando Pen Farthing says that he’ll be forced to leave Afghanistan without 25 Afghan staff and their families after they told him to flee ‘with as many cats and dogs’ as possible.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT BELOW
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said British forces will try to ‘find a few people in the crowds’ that they are able to evacuate but admitted that not everyone will be flown out to safety
A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the terrorist attack which killed at least 90 people outside Kabul airport
US President Joe Biden (pictured) promised last night to hunt down and destroy the terrorists who killed 13 American service personnel and dozens of Afghans in a double suicide attack at Kabul airport
Horrifying footage from Kabul airport shows dozens of Afghans lying in blood after two ISIS suicide bombers attacked crowds who were hoping to flee the Taliban
The Prime Minister vowed to continue the rescue effort at Kabul airport, where last night brave British troops (pictured) were seen sweeping the perimeter following the ‘barbaric’ double bombing
Wounded women arrive at a hospital for treatment after two blasts outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021
Afghan refugees crouch in a group as British military secure the perimeter outside the Baron Hotel, near the Abbey Gate, in Kabul following yesterday’s double bombing
ISIS has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s sequence of attacks. A fighter is shown in a grab from the group’s Telegram account, where they are allowed to operate
The blast was outside The Baron Hotel, at the Abbey Gate of Kabul airport. Westerners were staying in the hotel before their evacuation flights
Islamic State claim responsibility for deadly Kabul airport attacks and post picture of alleged suicide-bomber on social media site
By Charlotte Mitchell for MailOnline
Jihadist group Islamic State (IS) have tonight claimed responsibility for the devastating twin attacks that struck Kabul, killing 12 US troops and at least 60 Afghan civilians.
The group posted a statement claiming responsibility from their Telegram account on Thursday, following the attacks earlier today.
The two explosions, one of which hit Kabul airport, the other a nearby hotel, had been blamed on ISIS-K, a regional affiliate of the so-called Islamic State.
The splinter group is an enemy of the Taliban and operates in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Abdul Rehman Al-Loghri of ISIS-K was allegedly the suicide bomber responsible for one of the blasts, according to a twitter post.
Abdul Rehman Al-Loghri of ISIS-K was allegedly the suicide bomber responsible for one of the blasts, according to a twitter post
The blasts killed at least 90 people, including 12 US servicemen, and injured more than 150 others.
Founded in 2015, ISIS-K followers aim to establish an Islamic caliphate across Khorasan (hence the initial ‘K’) – a historic region covering Pakistan and Afghanistan along with parts of Central Asia.
Prior to Thursday’s attacks, the US had warned that the group would likely target the thousands of people gathering at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport as they attempt to flee the country following the Taliban takeover on August 15 and before the August 31 deadline for the withdrawal of US and NATO forces.
The organisation has already carried out roughly 100 attacks against civilian targets and another 250 involving US, Afghan or Pakistani security services, most of them chronicled via mobile phone videos then broadcast online.
In May, ISIS-K killed at least 68 Afghans and injured another 165 when they detonated three car bombs outside the Syed Al-Shahda school for girls in Kabul.
The vast majority of the victims were young pupils the Islamist group regard as legitimate targets because they do not believe women and girls should be educated.
When asked if he bears responsibility for the attack, Biden replied: ‘I bear responsibility for fundamentally all that’s happened of late,’ he said, before saying he had inherited a commitment to leave Afghanistan from the previous administration.
‘Here’s the deal, you know … as well as I do that the former president made a deal with the Taliban that he would get all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1.’
Biden revealed that he already asked his commanders for plans to strike back at the Afghan Islamic State offshoot that was responsible for the attack.
He also reiterated that he stands by his decision to withdraw troops by August 31 – and said that is not changing in light of recent events – even though he admitted his choice led to creating an environment where the ISIS-K attack took out more than a dozen American troops.
Biden revealed that he already asked his commanders for plans to strike back at the Afghan Islamic State offshoot that was responsible for the attack.
‘I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities,’ he said.
‘We will respond with force and precision at the place we choose and a moment of our choosing.’
But Intelligence experts questioned how Bien would strike back.
‘When the president said we’re going to hunt them down and make them pay my initial reaction was: Spot on,’ said Nathan Sales, the former ambassador at large for counterterrorism under Donald Trump.
‘And my second reaction was: With which assets?
‘Because the fact of the matter is, you can’t effectively take terrorists off the battlefield in Afghanistan, unless you have intelligence collection capabilities and soldiers on the ground who are prepared to go out and accomplish the mission.’
Biden has been under intense pressure to justify his decision to withdraw by August 31, after the way in which the Taliban raced across the country and captured the capital. That pressure reached fever pitch on Thursday as Republicans called for Biden’s resignation or impeachment.
Administration officials have been forced to negotiate with Kabul’s new rulers in order to ensure Westerners and vulnerable Afghans could reach the airport.
Warnings had grown in recent days that ISIS-K was planning a major attack. Other nations suspended their evacuation work and began flying their last remaining staff and military personnel out of the country.
But Biden said the U.S. would continue with the operation to rescue another 1,000 Americans believed to still be in Kabul.
‘We will not be deterred by terrorists,’ he said. ‘We’ll not let them stop our mission.’
Criticism of his handling of the crisis mounted throughout the day as Biden remained out of sight. The White House did not issue a statement and the Secretary State and Secretary of Defense also failed to appear.
Biden began his speech with a tribute to the personnel who died, his voice cracking with emotion.
‘These American service members who gave their lives – it’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate – were heroes … heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others,’ he said.
‘They are part of an airlift, an evacuation effort unlike any seen in history.’
The White House announced soon after that flags would be flown at half staff from federal buildings. At least 60 Afghans also died on Thursday when the two bombs went off amid the desperate clamour to escape Kabul.
A man injured in the Kabul terrorists attacks on Thursday arrives at hospital to be treated. Among those killed in the two bomb attacks were 12 US Marines and one Navy medic
Medical staff bring an injured man to a hospital in an ambulance after two powerful explosions, which killed at least six people, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021
Wounded Afghans lie on a bed at a hospital after a deadly explosions outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover
He made the retaliation threat last night as he joined Boris Johnson (pictured yesterday meeting with military personnel overseeing the rescue mission) in vowing to continue the evacuation efforts despite a ‘continued’ risk of further bombings by terrorist group ISIS-K
In this frame grab from video, people attend to a wounded man near the site of a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021
Medical and hospital staff bring an injured man on a stretcher for treatment after two powerful explosions, which killed at least six people, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021
A timeline of the Kabul airport attack
Around 3.30am Afghan local time: The US issues a warning telling its citizens not to come to Kabul airport unless specifically told to. Crowds outside the airport are told to disperse ‘immediately’ due to the threat of a terror attack.
1.30pm: The UK’s Armed Forces minister James Heappey, during a round of TV interviews in the UK, admits an attack by terror group ISIS-K is ‘imminent’.
5.30pm: Panic erupts among crowds outside Kabul airport as gunshots are heard. Initial reports suggest the shots were fired at an Italian C-130 plane as it took off from the airport. However intelligence reports later suggest the shots were fired into the air in an attempt to disperse the crowds.
6.15pm: A suicide bomb is detonated outside the Baron Hotel near to Kabul Airport. The hotel has been housing Western journalists. It has also been used as a staging post by western nations for evacuation. The blast is reportedly followed by small arms gunfire.
6.20pm: The Pentagon confirms the first blast. The Taliban immediately confirm a number of deaths.
7.30pm: The Pentagon confirms a second bomb has been detonated this time outside the Abbey Gate – a British controlled access point to Kabul airport. It is believed the blast took place in open access sewers where Afghan evacuees were yesterday seen waiting to be processed.
7.35pm: The two blasts are confirmed by Western officials. At least 13 people are confirmed to have died, many more are thought to have been injured. Officials say the attacks were likely carried out by terrorist group ISIS-K.
9.15pm: The Taliban condemns the terrorist attacks. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says his group ‘strongly condemns’ the bombings and is paying close attention to security. The group say the death toll may be as high as 40 people. Reports suggest four US Marines have died in the attacks.
10.30pm: A third blast is heard in Kabul. Reporters on the ground say they have heard the blast near to Kabul airport. Senior health officials say the death toll is now at least 60. Reports from Associated Press say 12 US service personnel have died, including 11 Marines and a Navy medic.
11pm: Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, confirms a dozen US soldiers have died in the attacks. He says as many as 15 are injured. He says two ISIS suicide bombers carried out the attack, along with ISIS gunmen.
Midnight: Joe Biden vows retaliation against ISIS-K. He says the US will not be ‘deterred’ and will continue its evacuation mission. Shortly after, it is confirmed a thirteen US soldier has died from his injuries. Officials say the number injured has also risen to 18.
*Times are all based on local time in Afghanistan
The first bomber was being searched by troops when he detonated a suicide vest. The second was a car bomb attack. It’s unclear how the first bomber got through Taliban checkpoints and close enough to the Marines to kill them.
The death toll is thought to be the highest in a single incident in Afghanistan since 30 died when a helicopter was shot down in 2011.
In a statement, Islamic State claimed responsibility and said one of its suicide bombers had targeted ‘translators and collaborators with the American army.’
General Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of CentCom, promised that the evacuation effort would continue despite the growing threat from ISIS and said he would ‘go after’ those responsible for the blasts.
He said the US military had Apache attack helicopters, MQ-9 Reaper drones, F-15 fighters and AC-130 Gunships flying over Afghanistan and warned further attacks by the terrorists were imminent.
‘We expect these attacks to continue,’ General McKenzie said, saying he was particularly concerned about the risk of further car bomb attacks.
Despite the danger, he said there was no alternative but to have troops continue to search people on the ground before they board flights, and that more than 100,000 had already been checked.
One thousand Americans remain in Afghanistan but McKenzie said not all of them want to leave. He said his personnel would work to get those who do want to leave out, but that the operation was becoming increasingly difficult as the deadline approached.
Republicans stepped up their attacks on Biden. Nikki Haley, former US ambassador to the UN, and others demanded he resign or be impeached for his handling of the the withdrawal.
H.R McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, said Thursday’s attack was ‘just the beginning.’
‘We are going to see horrible image after horrible image.
‘We’re going to confront the steady drumbeat of horrors inflicted on the Afghan people. What are we going to do about it?
‘Are we going to give a damn? Or is this going to be like Rwanda?’ McMaster told Yahoo News, referring to the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda.
‘I would not be surprised at all if ISIS-K — in fact, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t the case — is being used by the Haqqani network as a cutout to attack us and humiliate us on our way out,’ he added.
With the Taliban in charge of the city, there has not yet been any official death toll. Witnesses suggested as many as 60 Afghans had died.
Norway, Poland, Holland and Canada have all stopped evacuating citizens.
General McKenzie said the US would keep evacuating its citizens despite Thursday’s attack and despite an ‘imminent’ threat of more attacks.
The threat they are most concerned about is another car bomb, he said, but there is also intelligence to suggest ISIS wants to launch a rocket attack too.
Gen. McKenzie said the US would go after ISIS to retaliate if they can find the right groups. The threat of a suicide-born vehicle threat is ‘very high.’
He also said the US was working to determine how the suicide bomber got through, and that it may have been down to Taliban incompetence.
He said there was no evidence the Taliban helped facilitate the attack.
‘Clearly, if they get up to the Marines, there was a failure here. The Taliban operate with varying degrees of competence – some of these guys are good and scrupulous, and some are not,’ he said.
General McKenzie is the only person from the government to speak to reporters about the fiasco. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken only tweeted about it.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement: ‘On behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defense, I express my deepest condolences to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and wounded in Kabul today.
‘Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others. We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief.
‘But we will not be dissuaded from the task at hand. To do anything less – especially now – would dishonor the purpose and sacrifice these men and women have rendered our country and the people of Afghanistan.’
Republicans, outraged about the terrorist attacks in Kabul that left US personnel dead, accused President Biden of having ‘blood on his hands,’ as Sen. Lindsey Graham urged the US to take back control of Bagram airbase after reports of two explosions at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
‘I have advocated for days that the Bagram Air Base should be reopened as the Kabul airport is very difficult to defend and has been the only evacuation outlet,’ the South Carolina Republican wrote on Twitter.
‘We have the capability to reestablish our presence at Bagram to continue to evacuate American citizens and our Afghan allies. The biggest mistake in this debacle is abandoning Bagram.’
‘I urge the Biden Administration to reestablish our presence in Bagram as an alternative to the Kabul airport so that we do not leave our fellow citizens and thousands of Afghan allies behind. It is not a capability problem, but a problem of will,’ Graham said.
‘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 honor as a nation and save lives.’
Lawmakers were briefed on the situation this week by Biden’s national security team.
Meanwhile, Democrat Foreign Affairs Committee chair Sen. Bob Menendez, said: ‘This is a full-fledged humanitarian crisis and US government personnel … must secure the airport.’
‘As we wait for more details to come in, one thing is clear: We can’t trust the Taliban with Americans’ security.’
House GOP leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring back the House so that lawmakers can be briefed on the situation.
‘Today’s attacks are horrific. My prayers go out to those who were injured and the families of those who were killed. I also continue to pray for the safety of our troops, the stranded American citizens, our allies and Afghan partners who remain in the area. Our enemies have taken advantage of the chaotic nature of the withdrawal,’ the California Republican said in a statement.
‘It is time for Congress to act quickly to save lives. Speaker Pelosi must bring Congress back into session before August 31 so that we can be briefed thoroughly and comprehensively by the Biden Administration and pass Representative Gallagher’s legislation prohibiting the withdrawal of our troops until every American is out of Afghanistan.’
Other lawmakers submitted an outpouring of prayers for American troops on the ground and Afghans on Twitter as they, along with the rest of the world, watch and wait to see how a series of attacks on Kabul airport unfold.
Still others demanded a forceful response and called for ‘resignations’ out of the White House. Some warned the worst could be yet to come.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., reupped a call for Biden to resign.
‘Biden Admin views abandoned people in Afghanistan as a political nuisance. Maybe looking at them as real people instead of ‘papers to push’ would produce rescues rather than deaths. It’s time for Biden to RESIGN NOW!!!’
‘Should Biden step down or be removed for his handling of Afghanistan? Yes,’ Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted.
‘But that would leave us with Kamala Harris which would be ten times worse. God help us.’
Scenes from the ground show injured Afghans being removed in wheelchairs.
Injured Afghans flee Kabul airport on Thursday night after two explosions and gunfire ripped through crowds
Crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday as the evacuation mission continues
‘My biggest fear is these attacks today are just the beginning of what we will continue to see as the Administration fails to get Americans and our Afghan allies out and to safety,’ Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, wrote on Twitter. ‘We don’t need statements from the Administration right now – we need immediate resignations.’
‘At what point does Afghanistan turn from ‘Biden’s Saigon’ to ‘Biden’s Tehran Moment?” questioned Rep. Ralph Norman, R-SC. The Iran hostage crisis from 1979-1981 was considered a major failure and contributor to President Jimmy Carter’s loss in his reelection bid.
‘President @JoeBiden- you had one job. That job continues and American lives & security depend on it. Act like it,’ Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, wrote on Twitter.
Despite the escalating violence, the US’s top diplomat made the astonishing claim on Thursday morning, before the explosion, that it was ‘relatively safe’ on the ground and people should still be able to make their way there.
Joe’s nightmare choice on whether to leave troops to attack ISIS-K or pull them out by August 31: As Biden orders Pentagon to plan strikes – how can he ‘hunt down’ the terrorists behind the double suicide blast?
By Rob Crilly
President Joe Biden spent Thursday hunkered down with his national security team as he weighed one of the most difficult questions of his presidency: How to respond to the most deadly attack on American troops in Afghanistan in a decade.
When he entered the East Room of the White House at a little after 5pm his mind was made up. He announced he would push on with plans to bring home all U.S. troops by the end of the month while hunting down the ISIS offshoot behind the killing of 13 service personnel.
‘We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,’ he said in emotional remarks.
His commanders had already been asked to draw up plans to strike at ISIS-K, he said, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan.
But counterterrorism experts said the mission faced an obvious problem.
‘When the president said we’re going to hunt them down and make them pay my initial reaction was: Spot on,’ said Nathan Sales, the former ambassador at large for counterterrorism under Trump.
‘And my second reaction was: With which assets?
‘Because the fact of the matter is, you can’t effectively take terrorists off the battlefield in Afghanistan, unless you have intelligence collection capabilities and soldiers on the ground who are prepared to go out and accomplish the mission.’
It means Biden will have to decide what assets must be moved into the region or whether he must strike immediately, while he still has special forces at Kabul airport.
‘We’re probably going to have to go back in to Afghanistan’ to get the culprits, former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta told CNN.
‘We’re going to have to go back in, to get ISIS. And we’ll probably have to go back in to get Al Qaeda…’ former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta told CNN.
‘We can leave the battlefield, but we can’t leave the war on terrorism.’
Biden promised to hunt down ISIS-K, the group believed to be behind the attacks, but will have to do so with few intelligence assets left within Afghanistan
Two suicide bombings killed at least 60 people around Kabul airport on Thursday, as Afghans crowded around its gates seeking flights to safety
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.
It said it targeted ‘translators and collaborators with the American army.’
At least two explosions ripped through crowds around the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport killing dozens of Afghans desperate to leave the country since the Taliban seized power almost two weeks ago.
The American death toll was the highest for a single incident in a decade.
The result was the blackest day in Biden’s presidency so far, and triggered immediate demands for air strikes and for U.S. troops to stay longer.
Extending would likely bring blowback, said Richard Hoagland, a former deputy U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and ambassador in southern and central Asia.
He said: ‘If Biden extends the date what does the Taliban do?
‘And apparently this attack was by ISIS-Khorasan and that means that ISIS is in Afghanistan.
‘To say that the Taliban will not allow them to stay: That’s just wishful thinking.’
Part of the terms of a deal made by the Taliban and Washington last year, required the militants to break ties with Al Qaeda and ensure Afghanistan could not be used to plot attacks against the U.S.
Biden has justified the withdrawal of U.S. troops by saying Al Qaeda – the original target after the 9/11 attacks – no longer posed a threat.
But U.S. intelligence officials suspect ISIS-K, whose fortunes waned in recent years, may have used Afghanistan’s instability to rebuild.
The group is hostile to the Taliban, which cleared it out of its strongholds in Nangahar and Kunar provinces last year, but analysts said it would take any opportunity to attack foreigners and embarrass the new rulers of Afghanistan.
Some counts suggest the group carried out roughly 100 attacks against civilian targets and another 250 involving US, Afghan or Pakistani security services since they were founded in 2015.
They grew rapidly as a string of local commanders ditched their allegiance to the Taliban in favor of a group that was conquering territory in the Middle East, ensuring they could enjoy prestige and financial support.
The fall of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria since then and the relative strength of the Taliban saw them fragment, now operating in small cells.
‘I haven’t heard of them having the capacity to launch an attack like this,’ said a former intelligence official after the Kabul attacks.
‘It makes you wonder if they had support.’
By Thursday afternoon, the Pentagon said it had apache attack helicopters, MQ Reaper drones, AC 130 gunships in the air over Afghanistan.
But without a functioning embassy and its CIA teams, and without allies of the Afghan armed forces stationed all around the country, the U.S. will lack intelligence streams to direct its air power.
The blasts sent shockwaves around the world, buffeting Washington, where an already embattled spent the day Biden deciding his response.
‘Biden has us in a no win situation,’ said Mike Waltz, a former Green Beret turned Republican U.S. Representative.’
‘We either keep the air bridge open and continue to get hit by terrorists attacks or leave Americans behind.
‘We must go on offense against the perpetrators of this attack and let our Special Forces get Americans stuck behind terrorist lines.’
Speaking before the president unveiled his answer, Lisa Curtis, for senior director for South and Central Asia on President Trump’s National Security Council, said he would have been under pressure to speed up the withdrawal.
‘We had growing indications that there were potential attacks being planned by ISIS-K so I don’t think this has come as a surprise.
‘This is why Biden has been so firm in sticking to the August 31 deadline.’
Biden kept his options open this week. In an address on Tuesday, he said every day spent in the country increased the risks.
He referenced the danger of ISIS-K.
‘The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops,’ he said.
But he added that completion by August 31, ‘depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those who were transport- — we’re transporting out and no disruptions to our operations.
‘In addition, I’ve asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary.’
Sales, the former ambassador at large for counterterrorism under Trump, said the attack meant the Taliban had let down their side of the deal. That meant Biden was entitled to rip up his side.
‘Evacuations should continue as long as it takes to extract every American who’s in the country, and every Afghan, who is eligible to come to the United States because they provided support to our armed forces or served alongside our armed forces,’ he said.
To do it safely, he urged the administration to retake Bagram air base, which was vacated last month, and which would offer a more secure evacuation hub.
He also said air strikes were the right response.
‘You don’t get to kill American sailors and Marines with impunity,’ he said.
‘The people who are responsible for this need to be found. And they need to be taken off the battlefield, not just to avenge our fallen, but because if they committed one attack, they’re going to commit others.’
Afghanistan’s chilling new face of terror: ‘ISIS-K’ slaughter patients in their hospital beds, bomb girls schools… and see the Taliban as far too liberal. Their latest victory? Joe Biden is running scared of them, writes GUY ADAMS
Dressed in white coats and carrying stethoscopes, three young men walked unchallenged into Kabul’s 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital and made their way to the upper floors.
Then, outside the building, situated opposite the heavily fortified US Embassy, there was a loud bang.
The noise, from the detonating suicide vest of a comrade, acted as a signal for the trio to pull a selection of hand grenades and AK-47 assault rifles from beneath their medical clothing, before opening fire.
By the time the chaos had died down, several hours later, more than 30 doctors and patients had been killed and roughly 50 more wounded.
Further casualties included the three attackers, who were shot by Afghan special forces, plus the original suicide bomber, and a fifth member of the terror gang who had detonated a car bomb inside the hospital complex.
A former Pakistani Taliban commander called Hafiz Saeed Khan (middle) led ISIS-K until he was killed by a drone strike in 2016
Founded in 2015, its followers aim to establish an Islamic caliphate across Khorasan (hence the initial ‘K’) – a historic region covering Pakistan and Afghanistan along with parts of Central Asia
Their brazen and pitiless attack, which unfolded in broad daylight one afternoon in March 2017, was carried out in the name of ISIS-K, a local branch of the notorious global terror network.
Founded in 2015, its followers aim to establish an Islamic caliphate across Khorasan (hence the initial ‘K’) – a historic region covering Pakistan and Afghanistan along with parts of Central Asia.
The terror group is now such a threat that fear of an attack by Isis-K is being used to justify the US’s refusal to delay its withdrawal from Kabul Airport after the August 31 deadline set by Joe Biden.
In a statement released on Tuesday night, the US President claimed: ‘Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both US and allied forces and innocent civilians.’
The White House seems to believe ISIS-K (who regard the Taliban as dangerous liberals) is about to organise a wave of attacks in an effort to destabilise its efforts to form a government.
If so, then any foreign troops, including soldiers from Britain’s 16 Air Assault Brigade currently guarding Kabul airport, would represent very high-profile targets indeed.
The organisation has already carried out roughly 100 attacks against civilian targets and another 250 involving US, Afghan or Pakistani security services, most of them chronicled via macabre mobile phone videos then gleefully broadcast via the internet.
One particularly vile film, circulated in June 2017, celebrated the work of a group of child recruits to ISIS-K known as the ‘cubs of the caliphates’.
The film showed two of them – both dressed in black and seemingly under 12 years of age – forcing terrified captives to kneel on the ground.
They proceeded to pull back the heads of the men (who were apparently accused of spying), rant at the camera and execute them via a single shot to the skull.
ISIS-K published this photo in an effort to project unity and strength just days before hundreds of fighters admitted defeat and surrendered
More recently, in May this year, ISIS-K killed at least 68 Afghans and injured another 165 when they detonated three car bombs outside the Syed Al-Shahda school for girls in Kabul.
The vast majority of the victims were young pupils the Islamist group regard as legitimate targets for the sin of being educated while being female.
The attack, which came after a period in which Western air strikes had killed thousands of the terror network’s supporters and at least three of its leaders, served as a bloody reminder of its ongoing ability to bring carnage to the streets of Afghanistan.
The very fact that a US President is admitting that his policy is being governed by a perceived threat from ISIS-K represents a major coup for a hitherto fairly low-profile organisation.
It first made headlines in January 2016, when the Pentagon announced that the group had been designated as a Foreign Terrorist organisation.
This made assisting them a criminal offence and allowed US troops on the ground to actively pursue members (under previous terms of engagement they usually had to wait until the group attacked them before responding)
The organisation’s chosen first Emir, or leader, was a former Pakistani Taliban commander called Hafiz Saeed Khan.
His foot-soldiers were largely people who had defected from the Taliban as was his canny PR chief, Sheikh Maqbool, who was charged with ensuring that the group’s grisly attacks gained worldwide attention.
They were appointed at the behest of ISIS’s (then) top dog Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was facing difficulties in his stomping grounds of Syria and Iraq, so began funnelling cash to Khan in order to establish a new stronghold in the East.
Initially, their activities were limited to suicide bombings and small arms attacks targeting civilians, along with the odd kidnapping, but that was enough to prompt close attention from the US, who succeeded in killing Khan via a drone strike in July 2016.
His successor Abdul Hasib masterminded the hospital attack mentioned above, and was famed for both ordering fighters to behead local elders in front of their families, and to kidnap women and girls so they could be forced to ‘marry’ his fighters, that is, become sex slaves.
He perished in a special forces raid on his compound in which two US troops died in April 2017.
Later that month, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal – a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) also known as the ‘Mother Of All Bombs’ – on a key ISIS-K cave and tunnel system in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. Around 100 of their troops perished.
A series of drone strikes then wiped out both of Hasib’s successors, Abu Sayed and Abu Saad Orakzai, and roughly 80 per cent of the group’s troops, reducing their estimated strength from between three and four thousand to under 800 followers by the end of 2018.
Yet like so many militant groups in the benighted history of Afghanistan, they have since proved almost impossible to eliminate completely.
The deaths of successive leaders have ended up being largely symbolic, since they have been quickly replaced by experienced peers shipped in from other ISIS strongholds.
New foot-soldiers have been recruited via slick propaganda videos outlining its global aspirations to create an Islamist caliphate across Asia, governed by Sharia law, before eventually ‘[raising] the banner of al-Uqab above Jerusalem and the White House.
This ambition equates to the defeat of both Israel and the United States (and therefore the imposition of their twisted view of life on those countries).
The group’s current leader is believed to be Shahab al-Muhajir, also known as Sanaullah.
A United Nations report published in February said that he took over in June 2020.
The communiqué announcing the appointment, written in Arabic and translated into Pashto, referred to al-Muhajir as an experienced military leader and one of the ‘urban lions’ of ISIL-K in Kabul who had been ‘involved in guerrilla operations and the planning of suicide and complex attacks.’
While Sanaullah’s reign may be bad news for Afghans, he’s currently thought to have little to no capacity for mounting terror attacks in the West.
He is instead focusing on a mission to rid Afghanistan and other parts of its home territory of foreign ‘crusaders’ who ‘proselytize Muslims’ as well as ‘apostates’.
That in turn may explain why America is so anxious to withdraw from Kabul: once US troops are home, they are no longer in his organisation’s firing line.
For the Afghans left behind, escaping ISIS-K’s reign of terror will not be nearly so simple.
Murdered by suicide bomber as they helped people flee from terror: How American troops were targeted by ISIS-K killer who slipped past Taliban checkpoint and detonated explosives among refugees waiting in sewage-filled ditch
Details have emerged of the ISIS-K attack that killed 13 US troops and scores of Afghan civilians after a suicide bomber slipped past a Taliban checkpoint to get close to an evacuee screening point at the Kabul airport.
For days, a sewage canal at the airport had become a holding pen for Afghans who, knee-deep in effluent, waved passports and signs pleading for Western help in boarding evacuation flights out of Kabul.
But the canal bank leading to Hamid Karzai International Airport became a scene of carnage, when the suicide bomber detonated explosives, killing at least 90 people.
Amid the horror, wheelbarrows were used to cart off the wounded – some missing limbs, others unconscious.
Many survivors dropped vital documentation – their only lifeline to escape a country descending into civil war – in the stampede to flee that followed.
Last night, Islamic State claimed responsibility, alleging one suicide bomber got ‘within five meters’ of US troops before detonating a device.
The two locations targeted in the bombings were the Abbey Gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport, where US troops were screening Afghans for evacuation, and the nearby Baron Hotel, where many people, including Afghans, Americans and Britons were told to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation.
The Pentagon first publicly confirmed the blasts shortly after 6pm Kabul time on Thursday, and later confirmed a staggering US military death toll that is the highest in one day in Afghanistan since 2011.
General Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, said that the attack on the Abbey Gate unfolded after at least one suicide bomber was able to get through initial Taliban screening points.
General McKenzie said troops may have been searching the bomber when his device went off.
Most chillingly, however, this was a tragedy foretold.
The bomb at the Abbey Gate struck people standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water
In the hours leading up to the suicide bombings, intelligence agencies from numerous countries had identified the imminent risk of a terror attack.
State agencies had intercepted communications showing regional anti-Taliban IS fighters, under the banner ‘Isis-K’, were planning to hit the airport and kill US troops, civilians, and anyone else unfortunate enough to be in the area.
US officials urged anyone attempting to board evacuation flights to leave immediately, telling those at the ‘Abbey Gate, east gate, or north gate’ to find safety.
Some did heed the advice, but thousands of Afghans – knowing that their chances of getting out were diminishing in these final days of the evacuation mission – remained at the airport’s Abbey Gate yesterday.
Earlier, countries including Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Hungary all announced they were ending their evacuation programs.
At around 5.30pm local time, the nightmare began to unfold.
Amid the forbidding atmosphere, an Italian military plane with 100 Afghans on board was said to have been targeted with gunfire.
It was not damaged, and later reports claimed the shots came from Taliban militia simply firing warning shots into the air.
That was a false alarm. But within the hour, the dam burst.
SCENE OF CARNAGE
The Taliban maintains an outer perimeter around the airport, and is supposed to screen Afghans before they reach US-manned checkpoints.
General McKenzie speculated that the bomber may have slipped through due to incompetence among the Taliban militants.
As Marines were conducting a pat-down at a secondary checkpoint, the apparent suicide bomb detonated, creating scenes of carnage that were shared on social video.
The bomb at the Abbey Gate struck people standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water.
Reports say it was followed another around 200 yards away at the Baron Hotel, where troops and officials had recently been processing the documents of those hoping to board flights.
One man who saw the explosion said up to 500 people had been caught up in the terror.
The filthy canal was filled with bloodsoaked corpses, some being fished out and laid in heaps on the canal side while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.
Those who moments earlier had hoped to get on flights out could be seen carrying the wounded to ambulances in a daze, their own clothes darkened with blood.
Two separate explosions rocked Kabul with at least 12 US troops killed just hours after warnings of an ‘imminent’ and ‘lethal’ ISIS terror attack
Smoke rises from explosion outside the airport in Kabul. The explosions went off outside Kabul’s airport, where thousands of people have flocked as they try to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan
‘Men, women and children were screaming. I saw many injured people – men, women and children – being loaded into private vehicles and taken toward the hospitals,’ Zubair, a 24 year-old civil engineer, told Reuters.
He had been trying for a nearly week to get inside the airport with a cousin who had papers authorizing him to travel to the United States, said he was 50 meters away when he witnessed the blast at the Abbey Gate.
After the explosions there was gunfire, Zubair said, but it was not immediately clear whether the shots were fired as part of the attack or the US response.
‘We’re still investigating the exact circumstances,’ McKenzie said in a briefing. ‘I don’t know the size of the bomb.’
McKenzie confirmed that the Abbey Gate attack occurred at the ‘interface point’ where US troops hand-screen Afghans, and said a suicide bomb hidden on the bomber’s body was the ‘working assumption’ for the attack.
Details of the blast at the Baron Hotel, which is nearby but outside the zone of US control, were even thinner.
McKenzie was unable to confirm whether the blast at the hotel was caused by a suicide bomb or a car bomb.
ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s cell in Afghanistan and sworn enemies of the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The ‘K’ refers to the fact that the splinter cell is mostly based in the Khorasan province of eastern Afghanistan.
Fighters claiming allegiance to Islamic State began appearing in eastern Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and have established a reputation for extreme brutality, disavowing the Taliban for not being strict enough.
Its zealots have already carried out around 100 attacks on civilian targets.
In May, it killed at least 68 Afghans and injured another 165 when they detonated three car bombs outside a school for girls in Kabul. Most of the victims were young students.
The Taliban did not identify the attackers, but a spokesman described it as the work of ‘evil circles’ who would be suppressed once the foreign troops leave.
Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said that his group ‘strongly condemns the bombing of civilians’ and blamed the US for the security lapse, saying the bombings ‘took place in an area where US forces are responsible for security.’
ISIS has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s sequence of attacks. A fighter is shown in a grab from the group’s Telegram account, where they are allowed to operate
In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden spent much of the morning in the secure White House Situation Room where he was briefed on the explosions and conferred with his national security team and commanders on the ground in Kabul.
Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from IS, which has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban´s freeing of prisoners during its advance through Afghanistan.
Shortly before the attack, the acting U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was ‘clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling.’ But in an interview with ABC News, he would not give details.
Late Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport.
Washington and its allies had been urging civilians to stay away from the airport on Thursday, citing the threat of an Islamic State suicide attack.
McKenzie said that the evacuation will continue despite the bomb attack. He said there was a large amount of security at the airport, and alternate routes were being used to get evacuees in.
In addition to the many Afghans, the State Department estimated there were as many as 1,000 Americans in Afghanistan who may want help getting out.
But it remained unclear how the evacuation could move forward with reports suggesting the Kabul airport on lockdown.
‘The doors at the airport are now closed and it is no longer possible to get people in,’ Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said on Thursday.
‘We wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone,’ the acting chief of Canada’s defense staff, General Wayne Eyre, told reporters.
In the past 12 days, Western countries have evacuated nearly 100,000 people, mostly Afghans who helped them. But they say many thousands more will be left behind following President Joe Biden’s order to pull out all troops by August 31.
The last few days of the airlift will mostly be used to withdraw the remaining troops. Canada and some European countries have already announced the end of their airlifts, while publicly lamenting Biden’s abrupt pullout.
Biden has defended the decision to leave, saying U.S. forces could not stay indefinitely. But his critics say the U.S. force, which once numbered more than 100,000, had been reduced in recent years to just a few thousand troops, no longer involved in fighting on the ground and mainly confined to an air base.
The U.S. troops killed on Thursday were the first to die in action in Afghanistan in 18 months. It marked the highest single-day death toll for US forces in the country since 2011.
The two-decade war has cost 1,909 US military lives in combat.
Full transcript of Joe Biden’s statement of Kabul suicide bombing and answers he gave to reporters’ questions
By Melissa Koenig for DailyMail.com
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Been a tough day. This evening in Kabul, as you all know, terrorists attacked – that we’ve been talking about and worried about, that the intelligence community has assessed [was] undertaken – an attack – by a group known as ISIS-K – took the lives of American service members standing guard at the airport, and wounded several others seriously.
They also wounded a number of civilians, and civilians were killed as well.
I’ve been engaged all day, and in constant contact with the military commanders here in Washington, the Pentagon, as well as in Afghanistan and Doha. And my commanders here in Washington and in the field have been on this with great detail, and you’ve had a chance to speak to some, so far.
The situation on the ground is still evolving, and I’m constantly being updated.
These American service members who gave their lives – it’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate – they were heroes. Heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others.
They were part of an airlift, an evacuation effort unlike any seen in history, with more than 100,000 American citizens, American partners, Afghans who helped us, and others taken to safety in the last 11 days. Just in the last 12 hours or so, another 7,000 have gotten out.
They were part of the bravest, most capable, and the most selfless military on the face of the Earth. And they were part of, simply, what I call the ‘backbone of America.’ They’re the spine of America, the best the country has to offer.
In a news conference on Thursday, President Joe Biden vowed to hunt down ISIS-K after American soldiers were killed in a bombing
Jill and I – our hearts ache, like I’m sure all of you do as well, for all those Afghan families who have lost loved ones, including small children, or been wounded in this vicious attack. And we’re outraged as well as heartbroken.
Being the father of an Army major who served for a year in Iraq and, before that, was in Kosovo as a U.S. attorney for the better part of six months in the middle of a war – when he came home after a year in Iraq, he was diagnosed, like many, many coming home, with an aggressive and lethal cancer of the brain – who we lost.
We have some sense, like many of you do, what the families of these brave heroes are feeling today. You get this feeling like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest; there’s no way out. My heart aches for you.
But I know this: We have a continuing obligation, a sacred obligation to all of you – the families of those heroes. That obligation is not temporary; it lasts forever.
The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, the service of security, in the service of others, in the service of America. Like their fellow brothers and sisters in arms who died defending our vision and our values in the struggle against terrorism of – the fallen this day, they’re part of a great and noble company of American heroes.
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 will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.
Over the past few weeks – I know you’re – many of you are probably tired of hearing me say it – we’ve been made aware by our intelligence community that the ISIS-K – an arch-enemy of the Taliban; people who were freed when both those prisons were opened – has been planning a complex set of attacks on the United States personnel and others.
This is why, from the outset, I’ve repeatedly said this mission was extraordinarily dangerous and why I have been so determined to limit the duration of this mission. And as General McKenzie said, this is why our mission was designed — this is the way it was designed to operate: operate under severe stress and attack. We’ve known that from the beginning.
And as I’ve been in constant contact with our senior military leaders – and I mean constant, around the clock – and our commanders on the ground and throughout the day, they made it clear that we can and we must complete this mission, and we will.
And that’s what I’ve ordered them to do. We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation.
I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose, and the moment of our choosing. Here is what you need to know: These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans who are there. We will get out our Afghan allies out, and our mission will go on. America will not be intimidated.
I have the utmost confidence in our brave service members who continue to execute this mission with courage and honor to save lives and get Americans, our partners, our Afghan allies out of Afghanistan. Every day when I talk to our commanders, I ask them what they need – what more do they need, if anything, to get the job done. As they will tell you, I granted every request. I reiterated to them again today, on three occasions, that they should take the maximum steps necessary to protect our forces on the ground in Kabul.
And I also want to thank the Secretary of Defense and the military leadership at the Pentagon, and all the commanders in the field. There has been complete unanimity from every commander on the objectives of this mission and the best way to achieve those objectives.
Those who have served through the ages have drawn inspiration from the Book of Isaiah, when the Lord says, ‘Whom shall I send…who shall go for us?’ And the American military has been answering for a long time: ‘Here am I, Lord. Send me.’ ‘Here I am. Send me.’ Each one of these women and men of our armed forces are the heirs of that tradition of sacrifice of volunteering to go into harm’s way, to risk everything – not for glory, not for profit, but to defend what we love and the people we love.
And I ask that you join me now in a moment of silence for all those in uniform and out uniform – military and civilian, who have given the last full measure of devotion.
(A moment of silence is taken.)
BIDEN: Thank you. May God bless you all. And may God protect those troops and all those standing watch for America. We have so much to do. It’s within our capacity to do it. We just have to remain steadfast. Steadfast. We will complete our mission. And we will continue, after our troops have withdrawn, to find means by which we defined any American who wishes to get out of Afghanistan. We will find them and we will get them out.
Ladies and gentlemen, they gave me a list here. The first person I was instructed to call on was Kelly O’Donnell of NBC.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you have said leaving Afghanistan is in the national interest of the United States. After today’s attack, do you believe you will authorize additional forces to respond to that attack inside Afghanistan? And are you – are you prepared to add additional forces to protect those Americans who remain on the ground carrying out the evacuation operation?
BIDEN: I’ve instructed the military, whatever they need – if they need additional force – I will grant it.
But the military – from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Joint Chiefs, the commanders in the field – have all contacted me one way or another, usually by letter, saying they subscribe to the mission as designed to get as many people out as we can within the timeframe that is allotted.
That is the best way, they believe, to get as many Americans out as possible, and others. And with regard to finding, tracking down the ISIS leaders who ordered this, we have some reason to believe we know who they are – not certain – and we will find ways of our choosing, without large military operations, to get them.
O’DONNELL: Inside Afghanistan, Mr. President?
BIDEN: Wherever they are. Trevor from Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. There has been some criticism, even from people in your party, about the dependence on the Taliban to secure the perimeter of the airport. Do you feel like there was a mistake made in that regard?
BIDEN: No, I don’t. Look, I think General McKenzie handled this question very well. The fact is that we’re in a situation – we inherited a situation, particularly since, as we all know, that the Afghan military collapsed 11 days before – in 11 days – that it is in the interest of, as Mackenzie said, in the interest of the Taliban that, in fact, ISIS-K does not metastasize beyond what it is, number one. And number two, it’s in their interest that we are able to leave on time, on target.
As a consequence of that, the major things we’ve asked them – moving back the perimeter; give me more space between the wall; stopping vehicles from coming through, et cetera; searching people coming through – it is not what you’d call a tightly commanded, regimented operation like the U.S. is – the military is – but they’re acting in their interest — their interest.
And so, by and large – and I’ve asked this same question to military on the ground, whether or not it’s a useful exercise. No one trusts them; we’re just counting on their self-interest to continue to generate their activities.
And it’s in their self-interest that we leave when we said and that we get as many people out as we can. And like I said, even in the midst of everything that happened today, over 7,000 people have gotten out; over 5,000 Americans overall.
So, it’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of mutual self-interest. And – but there is no evidence thus far that I’ve been given, as a consequence by any of our commanders in the field, that there has been collusion between the Taliban and ISIS in carrying out what happened today both in front of the hotel and what is expected to continue for – beyond today. Aamer, Associated Press.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You have spoken again powerfully about your own son and the weight of these decisions. With that in mind – and also what you’ve said: that the longer we stay, the more likelihood that there would be a major attack – how do you weigh staying even one more day, considering what’s happened?
BIDEN: Because I think what America says matters. What we say we’re going to do and the context in which we say we’re going to do it, that we do it – unless something exceptional changes.
There are additional American citizens, there are additional green card holders, there are additional personnel of our allies, there are additional SIV card holders, there are additional Afghans that have helped us, and there are additional groups of individuals that have contacted us from women’s groups, to NGOs, and others, who have expressly indicated they want to get out and have gathered in certain circumstances in groups, on buses and other means, that still presents the opportunity for the next several days, between now and the 31st, to be able to get them out. And our military – and, I believe, to the extent that we can do that knowing the threat, knowing that we may very well have another attack – the military has concluded that’s what we should do. I think they’re right. I think they’re correct.
And after that, we’re going to be in a circumstance where there are – will be, I believe, numerous opportunities to continue to provide access for additional persons to get out of Afghanistan, either through means that we provide and/or are provided through cooperation with the Taliban.
They’re not good guys, the Taliban. I’m not suggesting that at all. But they have a keen interest.
As many of you have been reporting, they very much would like to figure out how to keep the airport open. They don’t have the capacity to do it. They very much are trying to figure out whether or not they can maintain what is the portion of an economy that has become not robust, but fundamentally different than it had been.
And so there’s a lot of reasons why they have reached out not just to us, but to others, as to why it would be continued in their interest to get more of the personnel we want to get out. We can locate them. Now, there’s not many left that we can assess that are – want to come out. There’s some Americans we’ve identified – we’ve contacted the vast majority of them, if not all of them – who don’t want to leave because they have sig- — they’re dual nationals, they have extended families, et cetera. And there’s others who are looking for the time. So, that’s why we continue.
I’ll take a few more questions, and – but, you, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
BIDEN: I didn’t pick you, but that’s okay.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you – you say that ‘what America says matters.’ What do you say to the Afghans who helped troops, who may not be able to get out by August 31st? What –
BIDEN: I say –
QUESTION: What do you say to them?
BIDEN: – we’re going to continue to try to get you out. It matters. Look, I know of no conflict, as a student of history – no conflict where, when a war was ending, one side was able to guarantee that everyone that wanted to be extracted from that country would get out.
And think about it, folks. I think it’s important for – I know the American people get this in their gut. There are, I would argue, millions of Afghani citizens who are not Taliban; who did not actively cooperate with us as SIVs; who, if given a chance, they’d be onboard a plane tomorrow.
It sounds ridiculous, but the vast majority of people in communities like that want to come to America, given a choice. So, getting every single person out is – can’t be guaranteed to anybody because there’s a determination, all who wants to get out as well. At any rate, it’s a process. I was really pointing to you, but – you, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. There are reports that U.S. officials provided the Taliban with names of Americans and Afghan officials to evacuate. Were you aware of that? Did that happen? And then, sir, did you personally reject a recommendation to hold, or to recapture Bagram Air Force Base?
BIDEN: Here’s what I’ve done on the – ask this – I’ll answer the last question, first. On the tactical questions of how to conduct an evacuation or a war, I gather up all the major military personnel that are in Afghanistan – the commanders, as well as the Pentagon. And I ask for their best military judgment: what would be the most efficient way to accomplish the mission. They concluded – the military – that Bagram was not much value added, that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul. And so, I followed that recommendation.
With regard to– there are certain circumstances where we’ve gotten information – and quite frankly, sometimes from some of you – saying, ‘You know of such and such a group of people who are trying to get out and they’re on a bus, they’re moving…’ – from other people – ‘and this is their location.’ And there have been occasions when our military has contacted their military counterparts in the Taliban and said, ‘This…’ — for example, ‘This bus is coming through with X number of people on it, made up of the following group of people. We want you to let that bus or that group through.’ So, yes, there have been occasions like that. And to the best of my knowledge, in those cases, the bulk of that has occurred — they’ve been let through.
But I can’t tell you with any certitude that there’s actually been a list of names. I don’t – there may have been, but I know of no circumstance. It doesn’t mean it’s not – it didn’t exist, that, ‘Here’s the names of 12 people; they’re coming. Let them through.’ It could very well have happened. I’ll take one more question.
QUESTION: Mr. President, can I –
QUESTION: Mr. President, right here. Mr. President –
BIDEN: Whoa. Wait, wait, wait. Let me take the one question from the most interesting guy that I know in the press.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Is that – is there -thank you.
BIDEN: That’s you.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there had not been a U.S. service member killed in combat in Afghanistan since February of 2020. You set a deadline. You pulled troops out. You sent troops back in. And now 12 Marines are dead. You said the buck stops with you. Do you bear any responsibility for the way that things have unfolded in the last two weeks?
BIDEN: I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that’s happened of late.
But here’s the deal: You know – I wish you’d one day say these things – you know as well as I do that the former President made a deal with the Taliban that he would get all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1. In return, the commitment was made – and that was a year before – in return, he was given a commitment that the Taliban would continue to attack others, but would not attack any American forces. Remember that? I’m being serious.
QUESTION: Mr. President –
BIDEN: No, I – I’m asking you a question. Be a – because before I –
QUESTION: Donald Trump is not the President right now.
BIDEN: No, no – now wait a minute. I’m asking you a question. Is that – is that accurate, to the best of your knowledge?
QUESTION: I know what you’re talking about. But, Mr. President, respectfully –
QUESTION: Since -I don’t think that the issue that — do you think that people have an issue with pulling out of Afghanistan, or just the way that things have happened?
BIDEN: I think they have an issue that people are likely to get hurt – some, as we’ve seen, have gotten killed – and that it is messy. The reason why – whether my friend will acknowledge it and was – reported it – the reason why there were no attacks on Americans, as you said, from the date until I came into office, was because the commitment was made by President Trump: ‘I will be out by May 1st. In the meantime, you agree not to attack any Americans.’ That was the deal. That’s why no American was attacked.
QUESTION: And you said that you still – a few days ago, you said you squarely stand by your decision to pull out.
BIDEN: Yes, I do. Because look at it this way, folks – and I’m going to – I have another meeting, for real. But imagine where we’d be if I had indicated, on May the 1st, I was not going to renegotiate an evacuation date; we were going to stay there. I’d have only one alternative: Pour thousands of more troops back into Afghanistan to fight a war that we had already won, relative – is why the reason we went in the first place.
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, and is made up – and I don’t mean this in a derogatory – made up of different tribes who have never, ever, ever gotten along with one another.
And so, as I said before – and this is the last comment I’ll make, but we’ll have more chance to talk about this, unfortunately, beyond, because we’re not out yet – if Osama bin Laden, as well as al Qaeda, had chosen to launch an attack – when they left Saudi Arabia – out of Yemen, would we have ever gone to Afghanistan? Even though the Taliban completely controlled Afghanistan at the time, would we have ever gone?
I know it’s not fair to ask you questions. It’s rhetorical. But raise your hand if you think we should have gone and given up thousands of lives and tens of thousands of wounded.
Our interest in going was to prevent al Qaeda from reemerging – first to get bin Laden, wipe out al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and prevent that from happening again.
As I’ve said 100 times: Terrorism has metastasized around the world; we have greater threats coming out of other countries a heck of a lot closer to the United States. We don’t have military encampments there; we don’t keep people there. We have over-the-horizon capability to keep them from going after us.
Ladies and gentlemen, it was time to end a 20-year war. Thank you so much.
Source: Daily Mail