CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie provided an update about terrorist attacks in and around Hamid Karzai International Airport. He confirmed that the attacks killed 12 US service members and wounded 15 more. Afghans waiting in line were also killed and injured. Following the detonation of a suicide bomb, gunmen from ISIS-K opened fire on the crowd at the gate. McKenzie said the primary mission is the protection of our military and the evacuees.
He provided assurances that the evacuation operations continue, but said that approximately 5,000 evacuees are still stranded at the airport. About 1,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan and McKenzie said the U.S. is committed to evacuating them “if they want to leave.” This language mirrors Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s language in his briefing Tuesday.
When the press asked about the threat from ISIS and how the military would handle it, McKenzie responded: “The threat from ISIS is extremely real. We have been talking about this for several days and we saw it manifest itself with an actual attack in the last few hours.”
“We believe it is their desire to continue those attacks and we expect those attacks to continue,” he added. “And we’re doing everything we can to be prepared for those attacks.”
The U.S. is continuing to process individuals at that airfield. McKenzie noted that the system is designed to work under stress, and they will continue to coordinate to make sure it is safe for American citizens to get to the airport. He expects to continue to evacuate people until the termination of operations at the end of the month.
One reporter asked if there would be a response to this attack, as President Biden had indicated in a speech last week. Mc Kenzie said, “Yes. If we can find who’s associated with this we will go after them. We’ve been clear all along that we’re going to maintain the right to operate against ISIS in Afghanistan. We are working very hard right now to determine attribution, determine who is associated with this cowardly attack and we’re prepared to take action against them.”
He assured reporters that the U.S. is well equipped and well-positioned. The military is using drones and helicopters with thermal imaging and optical capabilities to monitor the crowds. The Taliban is providing perimeter security, and McKenzie believes they have thwarted additional attacks.
McKenzie said that 27 casualties is a jarring number, and explained that the gate is an extremely dangerous operation. Security screening requires close contact between members of the military and those trying to enter. To date, personnel have successfully processed approximately 104,000 people without an incident, according to McKenzie. But entry points will remain dangerous until the evacuation is complete.
To prevent further attacks, they are sharing information with the Taliban. McKenzie said he has made it clear that the U.S. expects them to protect the evacuation operation and our personnel. He also rejected the idea the Taliban was in any way complicit in the earlier attack. The command is also working on practical prevention, such as pushing out the perimeter to prevent crowding and closing roads to prevent a vehicle attack.
McKenzie could not provide details about the second attack at the Baron Hotel. He noted that the facility was “dug in,” but medics had transported Afghans and British soldiers to the hospitals. He obtained the information from open-source reporting. While McKenzie was speaking, ISIS officially claimed responsibility for the airport attack and claimed their bomber got within five meters of U.S. forces before detonating.
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