WASHINGTON/NEW YORK -- U.S. President Joe Biden has vowed to push on with evacuations from Afghanistan despite a suicide attack near Kabul's international airport that killed scores of civilians and at least 13 American soldiers.
Pledging to go after the culprits, Biden said: "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."
Over 70 Afghan citizens and 13 U.S. military members were killed Thursday as suicide bombers detonated at two locations outside the airport. The Pentagon said that another 15 American service members were among the injured.
The attack appeared to be an attempt to sow even more chaos around already chaotic scenes at the airport. Since the Taliban took control of Kabul earlier this month, Afghans desperate to leave the country have rushed to the facility and its surroundings. Many are citizens who assisted the U.S. and its allies, and who now fear reprisals.
Several countries including Canada and Australia have ended their immediate evacuation efforts ahead of next Tuesday's deadline, in the face of rising terrorist threats. Biden said the U.S. would try to continue helping Afghans who had aided the mission to leave the country, even after the deadline.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released a statement mourning the deaths of soldiers involved in the evacuation drive. "Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others," he said. "We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief."
ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State group, claimed responsibility for the bloodshed. U.S. officials warned of the danger of further attacks.
"It's a hard day today," Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), told Pentagon reporters by video call. "Two suicide bombers, assessed to have been ISIS fighters, detonated in the vicinity of the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport and in the vicinity of the Baron Hotel, which is immediately adjacent."
The attack at the Abbey Gate was followed by a number of Islamic State gunmen opening fire at civilians and military forces, the general said. The explosion occurred during the screening process to let people inside the airport, he said.
"We have other active threat streams, extremely active threat streams against the airfield," he said, stressing his focus is on "ensuring that another attack of this nature does not occur" because "typically the pattern is multiple attacks."
McKenzie said potential threats the U.S. military still faced were rocket attacks, "suicide" vehicle attacks and "walk-in attacks" by suicide bombers similar to Thursday's attack at the airport gate.
Asked whether there were any discussions about sending additional U.S. troops to the Kabul airport, McKenzie said that "we assess we have the forces we need to protect ourselves there."
"I'm always in a constant dialogue with the secretary" of defense, the general said. "If I needed anything else, I'd be talking to him immediately. But I think we have what we need to protect ourselves."
Biden said later that he would send in more resources as necessary. "Whatever they need, if they need additional force, I will grant it," he said.
Biden also said he had ordered his commanders to find ways to target 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," the president said.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday had instructed American citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and its gates, although McKenzie said evacuations were continuing. The Biden administration had been bracing for the possibility of an attack at or near the Kabul airport by terror groups like the Islamic State.
Japan, for its part, has deployed three Self-Defense Forces planes to airlift Japanese nationals and Afghan staffers from the embassy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Dozens of Foreign Ministry and SDF members are believed to be at the Kabul airport facilitating the two-day mission through Friday.
"We have not received any information that SDF members on the ground have been hurt," an SDF spokesperson told Nikkei.