US officials said on Friday that the country’s military is using “maximum force protection” at the Kabul, Afghanistan airport after Thursday’s attack which left 13 US servicemen and and 157 others killed and many hundreds injured.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate what those measures entailed but admitted that “The next few days of this mission will be the most dangerous period to date.
“The US military is airlifting out thousands of people every few hours. They continue to prioritize evacuating the remaining American citizens who have indicated that they wish to leave, and are engaged in a variety of means to get them to the airport safely,” the official continued.
Over 110,000 airlifted out of Kabul after takeover
At this time, President Biden has stuck to his original declaration that all US forces would be out of the country on Tuesday, August 31.
Some of those injured in the bombing have already been airlifted to Germany for treatment, he added.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declared that the US will continue its evacuations “right up until the last minute” after reporters pressed him regarding the on the looming deadline.
So far, over 110,000 people have been airlifted from Kabul after the Taliban takeover. According to reports, there are still approximately 5,400 people who are currently at the airport, awaiting evacuation.
Early on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated there were as many as 1,500 Americans who still needed to be taken out of the country.
Blinken told reporters that 4,500 Americans have been evacuated from Afghanistan in the past ten days and “we’ve been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely.”
“Plans to develop ISIS-K targets”
He admitted that officials have had a difficult time tracking down the other estimated 1,000 Americans who might still be in the country.
“We’re aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day, through multiple channels of communication — phone, email, text messaging — to determine whether they still want to leave,” Blinken stated.
It is also possible, he added that some of them may have already left the country without notifying authorities and that some may have even decided to stay in country. “Many of them are dual nationals and may consider Afghanistan their home, who lived there for decades or who want to stay close to extended family,” Blinken explained.
Also, he noted, some of these 1,000 individuals “may have claimed to be Americans but turned out not to be.”
The end of the US presence in Afghanistan — whenever it actually takes place — may not be as black and white as it appears, however.
The White House official shared with the press that “The President directed the Secretary of State to continue diplomatic efforts with international partners to secure means for third-country nationals and Afghans with visas to leave the country even after the U.S. military presence ends.”
The official said US commanders also updated Biden and Harris “on plans to develop ISIS-K targets.
Afghanistan evacuation effort “a worthy mission”
“The next few days of this mission will be the most dangerous period to date. The President reaffirmed with the commanders his approval of all authorities they need to conduct the operation and protect our troops, and all reported back that they have the resources they believe they need to do so effectively,” the official said.
When asked by reporters about IS-K, the jihadist group behind yesterday’s deadly airport attack, Kirby stated that the US takes the group “very seriously,” adding “We’re not going to allow attacks on the homeland to emanate from Afghanistan again like they did 20 years ago.”
Meanwhile, one day after the attack near Kabul’s international airport that killed the 13 US service members, President Biden again expressed sympathy to the families of those who were killed, calling the Afghanistan evacuation effort “a worthy mission.”
“Losing a son or daughter, a husband, a wife, is like being sucked into a big black hole in your chest and you don’t think there’s any way out,” Biden, who lost a son who had previously fought in Afghanistan, said. “Our hearts go out to all those who we lost.
12,000 people moved through airport in 24 hours
“But look, the mission there they performed is dangerous,” he admitted. “And now it’s come with a significant loss of American personnel. But it’s a worthy mission because they continue to evacuate folks out of the region, out of the airport. Evacuated more than 12,000 additional people out of the airport in the last 24 hours,” Biden said.
At least 170 people were killed in the Thursday attack, according to an official with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health. It was originally thought that there were multiple attacks but the Pentagon has determined that the attack at the Abbey Gate of the airport was the only such incident.
After Biden said he had received a “detailed briefing” on the deadly attack on Friday morning from his national security advisers, he vowed “We will complete the mission.”
On Thursday evening, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken released a statement:
“Today’s bombings around the Kabul airport were a devastating reminder of the dangerous conditions in which our servicemembers and diplomats are operating as we conclude the United States’ 20-year military mission in Afghanistan. As the President said, the servicemembers who were killed and wounded today are heroes.
“They put their lives on the line to defend our civilian personnel, the civilian personnel of our allies and partners, and Americans, third-country nationals, and Afghans seeking safety. To date, more than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated from Kabul – a testament to the bravery, skill, and determination of all those who are contributing to this vital mission. We grieve those we lost today. And we express our most heartfelt condolences to their loved ones.
“We also grieve the loss of Afghans gathered near the airport hoping for a chance to start a new life elsewhere. And we honor the more than 2,300 U.S. servicemembers who have died in Afghanistan since 2001, the more than 20,000 who have been wounded, and the more than 800,000 who have served in America’s longest war, as well as other Americans killed or wounded in the conflict.
“Around the world, U.S. Marines protect American embassies and diplomats. They put themselves in harm’s way so that we can do our jobs on behalf of the American people. Even after the attack, they are doing that right now in Kabul, as they are in so many other parts of the world. And they will continue to do so as we complete this mission.
“We at the State Department feel an extraordinary debt of gratitude to them, today and every day.”