WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday confirmed that 12 U.S. service members have been killed and 15 wounded after two suicide bombers detonated explosives near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
U.S. Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said that a number of Afghan civilians were also killed but was not able to provide a precise number.
The explosions took place near the airport’s Abbey Gate and the Baron Hotel immediately adjacent, McKenzie said. Several gunmen opened fire on civilians and military forces after the explosion at Abbey Gate, he said.
The general, who oversees the U.S. military’s operations in the region, said that the Pentagon is working to determine attribution for the attack, but added that the current assessment is that the bombers are affiliated with ISIS.
He said that the U.S. is still monitoring “extremely active threats” to the airport that range from suicide bombers to rocket attacks. McKenzie said that despite the attack, the U.S. emergency evacuation mission continues.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressed his condolences in a statement Thursday and condemned the attack that “took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others.”
“We will not be dissuaded from the task at hand. To do anything less — especially now — would dishonor the purpose and sacrifice these men and women have rendered our country and the people of Afghanistan,” Austin added.
About 5,400 U.S. servicemembers are assisting with evacuation efforts in Kabul. The British have about 1,000 troops assisting with the evacuation. The U.K. Ministry of Defense said there were no reported casualties among its government and military personnel in Kabul after the attack.
President Joe Biden will address the nation on the attacks at 5:00 p.m. ET.
“The president met with his national security team Thursday morning, including Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley as well as commanders on the ground in Kabul,” the White House said in a statement.
“He will continue to be briefed on updates on the evolving situation throughout the day,” the statement added.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul had issued a security alert on Wednesday urging Americans to avoid the airport: “U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the alert said.
The embassy again told Americans on Thursday not to travel to the airport and avoid its gates after the attack.
In the last 24 hours, Western forces evacuated 13,400 people out of Kabul on 91 military cargo aircraft flights. Since the mass evacuations began Aug. 14, approximately 95,700 people have been airlifted out of Afghanistan.
About 101,300 people have been evacuated since the end of July, including about 5,000 U.S. citizens and their families.
Warning: Graphic image. Volunteers and medical staff unload bodies from a pickup truck outside a hospital after two powerful explosions, which killed at least six people, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021.
Wakil Kohsar | AFP | Getty Images
A State Department spokesperson said Thursday that about 500 of the 1,500 Americans believed to be in Afghanistan have been evacuated.
“We are now in contact with the roughly 1,000 Americans we believe remain in Afghanistan. And, the vast majority – over two-thirds – informed us that they were taking steps to leave,” the spokesperson added.
On Wednesday, Blinken said the actual number of Americans in Afghanistan could also be lower, adding that the figure was “difficult to pin down with absolute precision at any given moment.”
“The U.S. government does not track Americans’ movements when they travel around the world,” Blinken said in his first press briefing since the collapse of the Afghan government to the Taliban more than a week ago.
“There could be other Americans in Afghanistan who never enrolled with the embassy, who ignored public evacuation notices and have not yet identified themselves.”
Biden on Tuesday reiterated to leaders of the G-7, NATO, United Nations and European Union that the United States will withdraw its military from Afghanistan by the end of the month.
The president warned that staying longer in Afghanistan carries serious risks for foreign troops and civilians. Biden said ISIS-K, an Afghanistan-based affiliate of the terror group, presents a growing threat to the airport.
“Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians,” he said.
The Taliban said earlier Tuesday that the group will no longer allow Afghan nationals to leave the country on evacuation flights nor will they accept an extension of the withdrawal deadline beyond the end of the month.
“We are not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters during a news conference Tuesday.
“They [the Americans] have the opportunity, they have all the resources, they can take all the people that belong to them, but we are not going to allow Afghans to leave and we will not extend the deadline,” he said. Evacuations carried out by foreign forces after Aug. 31 would be a “violation” of a Biden administration promise to end the U.S. military’s mission in the country, Mujahid said.
— CNBC’s Spencer Kimball contributed to this report from New York.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.