White House officials on Friday warned another terrorist attack on the Kabul airport is “likely” before the U.S. military leaves and the evacuation is complete.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Harris met with Pentagon officials and members of the president’s national security team about 24 hours after the Kabul airport was bombed in an attack that was credited to the ISIS terrorist group, said press secretary Jen Psaki.
“They advised the president and vice president that another terror attack in Kabul is likely, but that they are taking maximum force protection measures at the Kabul airport,” Psaki said on Friday afternoon. “The next few days of this mission will be the most dangerous period to date,” she also said.
The national security advisers, Psaki added, reported that “our courageous servicewomen and men are continuing to operate a historic evacuation operation” and that the military is still “airlifting out thousands of people every few hours.”
Biden “made clear yesterday he does not want them to live on the earth anymore,” she said about the president’s vow to track down individuals who were responsible for the Kabul airport bombing.
Her comments echoed similar remarks made by Defense Department spokesman John Kirby earlier in the day when he noted that likely “thousands” of ISIS-K terrorists escaped several Afghan prisons as the Taliban—also designated as a terrorist group by several federal agencies—took over the country earlier this month.
U.S. officials, he said, believe there are “specific, credible threats” against Kabul airport. “We would expect future attempts” against the facility, Kirby said.
About a day earlier, Biden issued a statement on the bombing, which is estimated to have left about 200 people including U.S. military members dead. The president said that ISIS-K, or Islamic State Khorasan, would face retribution.
“We will respond with force and precision, at our time, at the place we choose, and at the moment of our choosing,” Biden said in a news conference.
Biden, meanwhile, has faced a torrent of criticism from members of both major political parties for how his administration has handled the withdrawal of Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of the Afghan government in light of Taliban advances. The administration has also been faulted for sending mixed messages and issuing conflicting statements regarding the security situation on the ground in Kabul.
And although Biden has admitted some responsibility for the withdrawal, he has blamed the Trump administration for the contours of a deal with the Taliban for the pullout. Former President Donald Trump, however, said that Biden violated some of the terms of the agreement, including the data of the withdrawal, and said he would handle the situation differently and condition the pullout with military force.
The White House on Thursday said that 12,500 people were evacuated from Afghanistan in 24 hours despite the terrorist attack. More than 100,000 have been evacuated since the end of last month, officials said.
Regarding a military strike or operation against ISIS-K, Psaki said Friday that Biden spoke with military leaders over the possibility.
“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,” Psaki said.