ISIS-K’s deadly attack on Kabul airport on Thursday undone US evacuation efforts and confirmed widespread fears that a terrorist group would attempt to capitalize on the chaos while thousands attempt to seize the Afghan capital before next Week to leave.
The Biden government had warned for weeks of such an ambush, which involved a suicide bombing just outside the gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), followed by a line of ISIS armed men who opened fire on civilians and the military. The attack killed 13 US soldiers, more than 170 Afghans, two British nationals and a British national’s child.
The terrorist attack – the deadliest for US forces in Afghanistan in a decade – sparked shock waves over Kabul and rocked world leaders. It came amid an already tense evacuation that has gripped the U.S. as the government seeks to complete its withdrawal by President Biden’s deadline on Tuesday.
The attack affected the airport’s evacuation numbers on Thursday, with about 12,500 people evacuated between early Thursday morning and early Friday morning, a sharp drop from the daily average of about 20,000 people the week before.
Now that other Western nations are hastily ending their evacuation efforts in Afghanistan, lawmakers, administrators and defense experts are warning that impending attacks by the Islamist extremist group could further threaten US forces on the ground and hamper evacuation operations.
“We still believe there are credible threats. In fact, I would say concrete, credible threats, and we want to make sure we are prepared, ”Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Friday as he spoke about efforts to increase security at the airport.
Kirby said defense officials have “additional information” about such threats, and recent efforts to expand the perimeter of Kabul airport and block additional roads “are based on information we have”.
Urged by the question of whether another attack is imminent, Kirby said, “We are certainly prepared and would definitely expect future attempts.”
That sentiment was repeated later on Friday when Biden and Vice President Harris were informed by their national security team that “another terrorist attack is likely in Kabul,” a White House official said.
“The next few days of this mission will be the most dangerous time yet,” said the officer. “The President confirmed with the commanders that he was in agreement with all the authorities they need to conduct the operation and protect our forces, and all reported that they have the resources they believe they need to do effectively. “
Kabul Airport is a particularly attractive destination for ISIS-K and other terrorist groups. Thousands of people are desperate to pass through the gates and airfield before U.S. forces leave the country completely before the end of the month.
“For them, the dense gathering of large numbers of civilians in a very unsafe environment, including a number of Americans and other Western nationals, is the most tempting possible target for a terrorist attack,” said William Wechsler, former Deputy Secretary of State for Special Operations in the Department of Defense and Counter Terrorism, now with the Atlantic Council.
A day after the explosion, the UK announced that it would complete its evacuation efforts and only flow out those who were already at Kabul airport.
The troops are beginning the final phase of departure and will be gone “in a few days,” said British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace on Friday.
“It is deeply regrettable that not all of them could be evacuated during this process,” said Wallace, including 800 to 1,100 Afghan allies who were able to leave the country who failed and 100 to 150 British nationals who are still in the country Land.
And Germany announced on Thursday that its military had evacuated Kabul after the explosions.
In a Twitter statement, the country’s defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said that no German soldiers were injured in the explosions and that an emergency departure had taken place.
“It was not possible to extend the mission in Kabul. The deteriorating security situation on site and the clear decision of the Taliban made this impossible, ”said Kramp-Karrenbauer.
In the days leading up to the attack, which also injured 20 soldiers and at least 200 Afghans, officials had become more blunt about terrorist threats as the US halted its operations.
Chairman of the Secret Service Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff Says Keeping Bannon In Criminal Disdain, “A Way To Get People’s Attention” Schiff: McCarthy “will do what Trump tells him” when the GOP reclaims the Jan.6th house to the criminals Passing contempt for Bannon on MORE (D-Calif.) Said the threats from ISIS-K against the airport were “very real and very substantial”.
And Biden drew attention to the possibility of attack several times over several days as he stated his plan to withdraw U.S. forces on time despite being asked to extend the mission.
“There are real and significant challenges that we also need to consider,” said Biden on Tuesday. “Every day we are there, we know that ISIS-K is trying to attack the airport and target both the US and US allied forces and innocent civilians.”
Although the Western world was not well known until Thursday’s attack, defense officials have warned in recent years of the growing strength and threat posed by ISIS-K, a rival of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the Haqqani networks.
Founded six years ago by the Pakistani Taliban, IS-K is said to have killed hundreds in dozens of attacks in Afghanistan this year alone, including 90 in a school bomb attack in Kabul in May.
In February 2019, the then Vice Director of Operations for the Joint Staff Air Force Lt. Gen. James Hecker and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Owen West inform the House Armed Services Committee that the number of ISIS-K is growing.
“Your tactics are pretty ruthless,” said Heckler. “We see some of the things that they do. They like high profile attacks. They like to go downtown Kabul and take a suicide bomber with them, kill as many civilians as possible and blow themselves up. “
When asked if he believes ISIS-K may pose a threat to the United States, West replied, “The intelligence services believe it, yes.”
West also warned that a “significant or sudden decline in our counter-terrorism capabilities or footprint” in Afghanistan would run the risk of ISIS-K growing and becoming a greater threat to the US homeland.
Looking to the future, the group “will continue to present an external challenge to the fight against terrorism in the years to come,” said Wechsler.
For his part, Biden has vowed to target ISIS-K facilities “in a location we choose, at a moment of our choosing” in a targeted manner.
“We are not forgiven. We will not be forgotten. We will hunt you down and make you pay, ”said Biden on Thursday in a speech to those responsible for the bombing of Kabul.
Psaki said on Friday that the president does not want the perpetrators to “live any longer on earth”.