Biden Vows to Hunt Down Kabul Airport Attackers, Stands by Decision to Withdraw From Afghanistan

Reuters
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President Joe Biden speaks at the White House about the bombings at the Kabul airport, Thursday.
President Joe Biden speaks at the White House about the bombings at the Kabul airport, Thursday.Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Reuters

President Joe Biden, his voice breaking with emotion, vowed on Thursday the United States would hunt down the attackers of twin explosions at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan and said he has asked the Pentagon to develop plans to strike back at them.

Biden spoke hours after the two blasts killed 13 American troops and wounded more, the worst day of casualties for U.S. forces there in a decade. Dozens of civilians were also killed. 

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"We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay," he said in remarks at the White House.

Biden said U.S. evacuations would continue. He gave no indication of a change in next Tuesday's U.S. pullout target, and said he stood by the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. 

"I have also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing," Biden said.

Biden appeared to be fighting back tears and his voice cracked with emotion as he talked about the American "heroes" who died. "It's been a tough day," he said. The president said he had told the U.S. military that he would grant additional force if they needed it: "Whatever they need, if they need additional force, I will grant it."

Biden defended his handling of his most serious foreign policy crisis, saying ultimately it is his responsibility, while assigning some blame to his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, for the 2020 agreement Trump negotiated with the Taliban.

"I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that's happened of late," Biden told reporters when asked if he was responsible for the events of the past two weeks. He said he did not trust the Taliban but believed it was in the group's interest to let the evacuations continue.

Biden had been warning of the possibility of attacks before the blasts erupted at the Kabul airport. "I know of no conflict, as a student of history, no conflict when a war was ending one side was able to guarantee that everyone who wanted to be extracted from that country was able to get out," he said.

In a briefing after Biden's remarks, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that it is not going to be possible to evacuate every Afghan who wants to get out of the county before the U.S. military withdraws on August 31. Psaki said there is no end date on any commitment to evacuate any American who wants to get out of Afghanistan, even after the military withdrawal.

Islamic State attackers struck the crowded gates of Kabul airport in the suicide bomb attack, killing scores of civilians and 13 U.S. troops, and throwing into mayhem the airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee.

Kabul health officials were quoted as saying 60 civilians were killed. Video shot by Afghan journalists showed dozens of bodies strewn around a canal on the edge of the airport. At least two blasts rocked the area, witnesses said.

Islamic State said one of its suicide bombers targeted "translators and collaborators with the American army". U.S. officials also blamed the group.

It was believed to be the most U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in a single incident since 30 U.S. personnel died when a helicopter was shot down in August 2011.

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