Biden on Kabul suicide bombings: 'We will hunt you down and make you pay'

Terror group ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the bombings near Kabul airport that killed over 70 civilians, 28 Taliban members, 13 US troops.

 Crowds of people show their documents to U.S. troops outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)
Crowds of people show their documents to U.S. troops outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

At least 72 Afghans and 13 US servicemen have been killed in a suicide bombing carried out by ISIS at the Kabul airport, US officials confirmed Thursday night. 

The terror group ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for the deadly double attack, the group's Amaq News Agency said on its Telegram channel.

President Joe Biden, his voice breaking with emotion, vowed on Thursday the United States would hunt down those responsible for twin explosions at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan and said he asked the Pentagon to develop plans to strike back at them.

Biden spoke hours after the blasts killed at least a dozen American troops and scores of civilians, the worst day of casualties for US forces there in a decade.

"We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay," Biden said in remarks at the White House.

He promised US evacuations would continue. He gave no indication of a change in next Tuesday's US pullout target.

"I have 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," Biden said.

Biden appeared to be fighting back tears and his voice cracked with emotion as he talked about the American "heroes" who died. "It's been a tough day," he said.

The president said he had told the US military that he would grant additional force if they needed it: "Whatever they need, if they need additional force, I will grant it."

Biden defended his handling of his most serious foreign policy crisis, saying ultimately it is his responsibility, while assigning some blame to his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, for the 2020 agreement Trump negotiated with the Taliban. "I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that's happened of late," Biden told reporters when asked if he was responsible for the events of the past two weeks.

He said he did not trust the Taliban but believed it was in the group's interest to let the evacuations continue.

Some staff learned of the growing numbers of US military dead from mounted television screens in the White House West Wing as the day progressed, and let out cries of despair as the numbers multiplied.

Biden had been warning of the possibility of attacks before the blasts erupted at the Kabul airport.

"I know of no conflict, as a student of history, no conflict when a war was ending one side was able to guarantee that everyone who wanted to be extracted from that country was able to get out," he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris canceled her plan to campaign for California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election on September 14, on her way home from a trip to Asia, and will instead return to Washington, her staff said.

At least 28 members of the Taliban were among the people killed in explosions overnight outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, a Taliban official told Reuters on Friday.

"We have lost more people than the Americans," said the official, who declined to be identified. He said there was no reason to extend the Aug. 31 deadline for foreign forces to leave the country.

A NATO country diplomat in Kabul said all foreign forces were aiming to evacuate their citizens and embassy employees by Aug. 30.

The Taliban said it "warned the foreign forces the repercussions of the large gathering at Kabul airport," a spokesman for the Taliban's political office told Al Jazeera TV on Thursday.

The spokesman, Mohammad Naeem, said the gathering of a large number of people prevented adequate security measures from being taken.

CENTCOM Chief Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said that while saddened by the deaths, the US will continue conducting evacuations from Kabul. "ISIS will not deter the US from carrying out the mission."

He estimated that some 1,000 Americans are still in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, McKenzie expressed that he expects ISIS attacks to continue.

An emergency airport in Kabul has confirmed that approximately 60 people were wounded in the blast, and six died on the way to hospital.

A UK defense source confirmed there were two explosions at the airport, one next to the Baron Hotel, and the second by Abbey Gate. No UK military casualties were reported, according to an initial assessment.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby initially confirmed the blast at Abbey Gate outside the airport, and confirmed both explosions in a tweet. 

Baron Hotel was used by Canadian and British military as collection point for Afghans approved for evacuation flights.

According to reports, guns were fired at one of the gates of the airport. 

A source briefed on the situation has said that “hundreds of ISIS-K in the vicinity, attacks likely to continue.” US officials said on Thursday they were concerned that further attacks could occur at Kabul airport. 

Unconfirmed reports of a third explosion on Thursday night further highlighted this concern.

 Injured people arrive at a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021. (credit: ASVAKA NEWS/via REUTERS) Injured people arrive at a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021. (credit: ASVAKA NEWS/via REUTERS)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned on Thursday the terror attacks around Kabul airport in Afghanistan and expressed his support for both the injured and the families of those who have been killed. 

Following reports of the blast, the UK Defense Ministry said they are working urgently on determining what has happened and its impact on the ongoing evacuation effort, according to Reuters. 

"We are working urgently to establish what has happened in Kabul and its impact on the ongoing evacuation effort," the Defense Ministry said on Twitter.

"Our primary concern remains the safety of our personnel, British citizens and the citizens of Afghanistan. We are in close contact with our US and other NATO allies at an operational level on the immediate response to this incident.

The UK Foreign Office advised against all travel to Afghanistan.

The United States and allies urged people to move away from Kabul airport on Thursday due to the threat of an Islamic State terror attack. 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett commented on the suicide bombing on Thursday night as his meeting with President Joe Biden was delayed to Friday.

"On behalf of the people of Israel, I share our deep sadness over the loss of American lives in Kabul. Israel stands with the United States in these difficult times, just as America has always stood with us," Bennett wrote on Twitter.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has also offered his prayers on Twitter, adding that "we stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the fight against terrorism."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.