UPDATED – Reports say 12 US Military Members Killed in Bombings
WASHINGTON (AP) — The attacks that killed at least 12 U.S. service members outside the Kabul airport Thursday left President Joe Biden with increasingly fraught choices: continue the evacuation and risk more deaths or end it earlier than planned and risk leaving behind Americans who are still seeking to leave the country.
As details of the attacks emerged, the White House rescheduled Biden’s first in-person meeting with Israel’s new prime minister and canceled a video conference with governors about Afghan refugees arriving in the United States.
Biden had pledged to get out of Afghanistan every American who wished to leave. As of Wednesday, the State Department said about 4,500 American citizens had been flown out, with about 1,500 yet to go.
Biden on Thursday was to host Israeli leader Naftali Bennett, who is on his first visit to the United States since taking office. The meeting was rescheduled for Friday. Biden also had planned to meet virtually with a bipartisan group of governors who have said they want to help resettle Afghan refugees fleeing their now Taliban-ruled country. A regular briefing by government health and medical experts also was postponed.
The deadly developments in the Afghan capital of Kabul forced the White House to tear up Biden’s schedule. He was monitoring the airport situation, which was prompted by the upcoming Tuesday deadline he set for removing American citizens and troops from Afghanistan.
A U.S. official said the attack was “definitely believed” to have been carried out by the Islamic State group, whose affiliate in Afghanistan grew out of disaffected Taliban members who hold an even more extreme view of Islam.
In Washington, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California called for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to bring the chamber back into session to consider legislation that would prohibit the U.S. withdrawal until all Americans are out of Afghanistan. Such a return is highly unlikely because Democrats aligned with Biden hold majority control.
Despite intense pressure to extend the Tuesday deadline, Biden has repeatedly cited the threat of terrorist attacks against civilians and U.S. service members as a reason to keep to his plan.
The explosions detonated as the U.S. worked to get remaining Americans out of the country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that as many as 1,500 Americans may be awaiting evacuation.
Asked during an interview with ABC News about reports the evacuation could end on Friday, Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, declined to comment.
Wilson said “there are safe ways to get to” the airport for those Americans who still want to leave. He added that “there undoubtedly will be” some at-risk Afghans who will not get out before Biden’s deadline.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Two suicide bombers and gunmen targeted crowds massing near the Kabul airport Thursday, in the waning days of a massive airlift that has drawn thousands of people seeking to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
At least 13 people were killed and 15 wounded, Russian officials said.
A U.S. official said the complex attack was “definitely believed” to have been carried out by the Islamic State group, whose affiliate in Afghanistan grew out of disaffected Taliban members who hold an even more extreme view of Islam.
At least 13 people died and 15 were wounded, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which gave the first official casualty count. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also confirmed the blasts, saying one was near an airport entrance and another was a short distance away by a hotel.
The U.S. official said members of the U.S. military were among the wounded. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations.
Even as the area was hit, the official said evacuation flights continued to take off from Kabul airport, which Western governments earlier warned was a target.
One explosion went off in a crowd of people waiting to enter the airport, according to Adam Khan, an Afghan waiting nearby. He said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who lost body parts.
Several countries urged people to avoid the airport earlier in the day, with one saying there was a threat of a suicide bombing. But just days — or even hours for some nations — before the evacuation effort ends, few appeared to heed the call.
Over the last week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most searing images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the Taliban’s takeover, as flight after flight took off carrying those who fear a return to the militants’ brutal rule.
Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and begun to withdraw their soldiers and diplomats, signaling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. The Taliban have pledged not to attack Western forces during the evacuation, but insist the foreign troops must be out by America’s self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31.
Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from Afghanistan’s Islamic State group affiliate, which likely has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during their blitz across the country.