As the call to prayer echoed through Kabul along with the roar of departing planes, the anxious crowd outside the airport was as large as ever. Dozens of Taliban members carrying heavy weapons patrolled one area about 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the airport to prevent anyone from venturing beyond.
The ISIS terror group said it carried out Thursday’s bombings, which took place at or near an eastern entrance to the U.S.-held Hamid Karzai International Airport. The group said it was targeting American forces and “their spies.”
U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to retaliate and promised the evacuations would not end because of the attack.
“We will complete our mission. And we will continue, after our troops have withdrawn, to find means by which we defined any American who wishes to get out of Afghanistan. We will find them and we will get them out,” Biden said from the White House in Washington.
The United States has facilitated the evacuation of approximately 100,000 people since Aug. 14, when the Taliban completed its takeover of the country. That includes 5,000 Americans.
In the 24 hours starting at Aug. 26 at 3 a.m. E.T., 7,500 people were flown out of Afghanistan on 14 military flights and 39 coalition flights, a White House official said.
Some 5,000 people were on the ramp at the airport awaiting airlift, a U.S. general told reporters on Thursday.
And more continued to arrive Friday, despite warnings that more attacks could happen. Thursday’s attacks led Jamshad to head to the airport in the morning with his wife and three small children, clutching an invitation to a Western country he didn’t want to name. This was his first attempt to leave.
“After the explosion I decided I would try because I am afraid now there will be more attacks, and I think now I have to leave,” said Jamshad, who like many Afghans uses only one name.
Others acknowledged that going to the airport was risky, but said they have few choices.
“Believe me, I think that an explosion will happen any second or minute, God is my witness, but we have lots of challenges in our lives, that is why we take the risk to come here and we overcome fear,” said Ahmadullah Herawi, also seeking to flee.
The United States is granting Special Immigrant Visas or other papers to Afghans attempting to flee, focusing on those who helped U.S. troops since 2001 or are in fear of persecution if they remain in the country past the U.S. withdrawal deadline.
Officials emphasized Thursday that the Aug. 31 deadline is still in place, even as members of Congress continue calling on the Biden administration to push it back so that every American can be evacuated.
“The president must reconsider his self-imposed deadline and use whatever force and actions necessary to protect our soldiers, to bring home all American citizens, and to evacuate our Afghan allies,” Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.