Biden Vows to Hunt Down Those Responsible for Kabul Attacks
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden vowed to continue evacuations from Afghanistan after explosions in Kabul killed 12 U.S. service members, and said the U.S. will retaliate against those responsible for the bombings.
“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,” Biden said Thursday in an address from the White House.
In addition to the deaths of service members, the Associated Press said at least 60 Afghans died in the explosions. Biden said U.S. intelligence had determined that militants from ISIS-K, an affiliate of Islamic State in Afghanistan, were likely behind the blasts.
The deaths prompted new criticism of Biden from GOP lawmakers who faulted the administration’s planning for withdrawal from America’s longest war. Members of both parties earlier faulted the exit as hastily executed and poorly planned even as Biden has defended his approach.
Biden stood by his plan to withdraw troops by Aug. 31, saying keeping them longer would endanger more lives and require reinforcements. Biden didn’t consider shifting the deadline after the deaths, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
The president was advised by his military commanders that sticking to the deadline would be the best way to ensure the U.S. could continue to assist those seeking to leave after the deadline, Psaki said.
Some lawmakers and foreign allies have said the U.S. should remain in the country to allow for additional evacuations, but Psaki said it would not be possible to evacuate every Afghan who wanted to leave.
Biden pledged that the U.S. would continue with evacuations. “We will rescue the Americans who are there,” he said. “We will get our Afghan allies out.”
Several allies have pulled out of the evacuation effort citing the terrorist threat, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. would continue to work alongside U.S. Forces.
General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said he expects more attacks as the U.S. moves to continue evacuations and pull American forces out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31. The U.S. State Department said it’s in contact with about 1,000 Americans it believes remain in Afghanistan and over two-thirds of them indicated they’re taking steps to exit the country.
The president pledged retaliation for the attack, saying he “ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities.”
The U.S. has at times shared intelligence with Taliban officials to help reduce the threat from groups like Islamic State. Military officials said the Taliban shares the U.S. goal of having all American forces out next week. Biden defended that approach in his speech.
“It’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of mutual self-interests,” Biden said. “They’re not the good guys, the Taliban.”
Biden was briefed on the attacks earlier Thursday by his national security team. The violence disrupted his schedule for the day, with the White House scrapping a planned virtual meeting between the president and governors over resettling Afghan refugees and delaying a meeting between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The U.S. and other nations had warned their citizens not to congregate near the airport in recent hours, citing a credible threat of a terrorist attack. Earlier in the week, Biden had warned that continued U.S. operations in the country faced a growing risk of targeting by ISIS-K. It was unclear in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s bombings who was responsible.
Biden had previously said that he planned to withdraw all U.S. forces by Aug. 31, but left open the possibility of a continued presence if needed to evacuate American citizens seeking to flee the country after the Taliban takeover earlier this month.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring Congress back into session to address Wednesday’s attack, adding that “our enemies have taken advantage of the chaotic nature of the withdrawal.”
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