A suicide bomb attack Thursday outside the Abbey Gate at Kabul’s airport in Afghanistan killed 13 U.S. service members and injured at least 18 more according to U.S. officials said – making it the deadliest day for U.S. troops in 10 years.
Those troops who were killed included 10 Marines, two Army soldiers and a Navy corpsman.
The suicide bomb attack was followed up by a firefight with Islamic State gunmen at the gate, where the night before there had been 5,000 Afghans and potentially some Americans seeking access to the airport to flee.
Crowds had been piling up at the gate for days, especially as President Joe Biden’s self-imposed deadline for ending evacuations rapidly approached and Americans along with their allies risk of being trapped in the country increased.
In recent days, reports had surfaced of potential terror threats to the area from the Islamic State.
The Pentagon confirmed the initial explosion as well as a second attack at the Baron Hotel, where Americans have gathered in the past for rescue and evacuation. Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. said two suicide bombers were assessed to be ISIS fighters.
“The threat from ISIS is extremely real,” he said. “We believe it is their desire to continue those attacks, and we expect those attacks to continue, and we’re doing everything we can to prepare for those attacks.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a statement on the attacks. “On behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defense, I express deepest condolences to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and wounded in Kabul today,” he said. “Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others.”
“We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief,” he said. “But we will not be dissuaded from the task at hand.”
While the total number of casualties remains unclear, these 13 deaths make it the deadliest day for U.S. troops since insurgents in Afghanistan shot down a U.S. Chinook helicopter in August 2011 – which killed 38 people, including 31 U.S. troops.
A source briefed on the situation told Fox News that there are hundreds of Islamic States fighters in the vicinity and warned that attacks are “likely to continue.”
“Taliban has essentially completely stopped letting Afghans through,” the source said, adding that they are “mostly” letting Americans through, but many are staying away due to the ISIS threat.
“Military continues to retrograde and depart airport. Almost a certainty that Americans will be left behind,” the source said. “They will have to be extracted after the fact through either Taliban negotiation or unconventional means.”
The Taliban had moved quickly through the country ahead of the planned U.S. withdrawal at the end of the month, catching the U.S. off guard and leading to chaotic scenes at Kabul airport and a mass evacuation effort. As of Thursday, 104,000 people had been flown out, including 5,000 U.S. citizens. The Pentagon said about 1,000 Americans may still be in the country.
There are currently 5,200 U.S. troops at the airport and thousands of Afghan evacuees still on the tarmac waiting to be evacuated. U.S. planes have been leaving every 40 minutes out of the airport.
The bombing came hours after the State Department warned Americans outside the gates of the Kabul airport to “leave immediately” due to the increasing terrorist threat.
Author: Richard Klaus