WASHINGTON: United States (US) President Joe Biden has warned another attack in Afghanistan was “highly likely” in the “next 23-36 hours” and the State Department called the threat “specific” and “credible”.
The US President has vowed to keep up airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) group whose suicide bombing at the Kabul airport killed scores of Afghans and 13 American service members.
The Pentagon said the remaining contingent of US forces at the airport, now numbering fewer than 4,000, had begun their final withdrawal ahead of Biden’s deadline for ending the evacuation on Tuesday.
“This strike was not the last,” Biden said in a statement, adding, “We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay.” He also paid tribute to the “bravery and selflessness” of the American troops executing the hurried airlift of tens of thousands from Kabul airport.
The evacuation proceeded as tensions rose over the prospect of another IS attack. The State Department issued a new security alert early on Sunday morning instructing people to leave the airport area immediately “due to a specific, credible threat”.
“Our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours,” Biden said, adding that he has instructed them to take all possible measures to protect their troops, who are securing the airport and helping bring onto the airfield Americans and others desperate to escape Taliban rule.
The remains of the 13 American troops were on their way to the United States, the Pentagon said. Their voyage marked a painful moment in a nearly 20-year American war that cost more than 2,400 US military lives and is ending with the return to power of a Taliban movement that was ousted when US forces invaded in October 2001.
The remains of troops killed in action overseas are usually flown back to the US via Dover Air Base in Delaware, where fallen troops’ return to US soil is marked by a solemn movement known as the “dignified transfer”.
The Pentagon released the names of those killed — 11 Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier. Twelve of them were in their 20s; some were born in 2001, the year America’s longest war began. The oldest was 31.
They were the first US service members killed in Afghanistan since February 2020, the month the Trump administration struck an agreement with the Taliban in which the group halted attacks on Americans in exchange for a US agreement to remove all troops and contractors by May 2021.
With Biden’s approval, the Pentagon this month sent thousands of additional troops to the Kabul airport to provide security and to facilitate the State Department’s chaotic effort to evacuate thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans who had helped the United States during the war.
The evacuation was marred by confusion and chaos as the US government was caught by surprise when the Afghan army collapsed and the Taliban swept to power on August 15. About 5,400 Americans have been evacuated from the country so far, including 300 in the last day.