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WASHINGTON/NEW YORK — At least 60 Afghan citizens and 12 U.S. military members were killed Thursday as suicide bombers detonated in two locations outside Kabul’s international airport.
The Pentagon said that another 15 American service members were among the injured.
“It’s a hard day today,” Gen. Kenneth 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 ISIS gunmen who opened fire at civilians and military forces, the general said. The explosion occurred during the screening process to let people inside the airport, he said.
President Joe Biden told reporters later Thursday that the U.S. will hunt down the culprits.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget,” he said in televised remarks.
McKenzie warned of the possibility of further attacks.
“The threat from ISIS is extremely real,” McKenzie said, referring to the Islamic State terror group. “We expect those threats to continue.”
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. He was unsure if the attacker was a man or a woman.
Since the Taliban took control of Kabul in this month, Afghans desperate to leave the country have thronged the airport and its surroundings. U.S. President Joe Biden plans to withdraw U.S. troops aiding with evacuations by Tuesday.
A Taliban official said at least 13 were killed, including children, Reuters reports. Roughly 60 wounded were receiving emergency care in Kabul. A BBC report put the death toll over 60, including U.S. service members.
Three U.S. officials said the blasts appear to have been caused by suicide bombers, CNN reports. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, Reuters reports, citing a posting by the group’s Amaq News Agency on its Telegram channel.
“Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday instructed American citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and its gates at this time, 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 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.