U.S. forces helping to evacuate Afghans desperate to flee Taliban rule braced for more attacks on Friday after an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 85 people, including 13 U.S. soldiers outside the gates of Kabul airport.
General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said U.S. commanders were on alert for more attacks by Islamic State (ISIS), including possibly rockets or vehicle-borne bombs targeting the airport.
“We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,” he said, adding that some intelligence was being shared with the Taliban and that he believed “some attacks have been thwarted by them.”
Islamic State, an enemy of the Taliban as well as the West, said one of its suicide bombers targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army”.
U.S. officials also blamed the group and vowed retribution.
However, McKenzie said, the United States would press on with evacuations despite the threat of further attacks, noting that there were still about round 1,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan.
Earlier on Thursday evening, two blast and gunfire rocked the area outside the airport, witnesses said.
Video shot by Afghan journalists showed dozens of bodies strewn around a canal on the edge of the airport.
A health official and a Taliban official said the toll of Afghans killed had risen to 72, including 28 Taliban members. The U.S. military said 13 of its service members were killed.
U.S. forces are racing to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by an Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden, who says the United States had long ago achieved its original rationale for invading the country in 2001: to root out al Qaeda militants and prevent a repeat of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Biden said he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate that claimed responsibility.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said during televised comments from the White House.
In the past 12 days, Western countries have evacuated nearly 100,000 people. But they acknowledge that thousands will be left behind when the last U.S. troops leave at the end of the month.
Several Western countries said the mass airlift of civilians was coming to an end and announced their last remaining troops had left the country.