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White House says US service members in Kabul could face more threats in coming days

Afghanistan
Posted at 11:02 AM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 15:58:14-04

WASHINGTON, D.C. — White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing Friday that the Biden administration believes U.S. troops in Afghanistan may still be in danger.

Psaki told reporters that President Joe Biden's national security team had informed the president that another attack was "likely." She added that "maximum force protection" measures are being implemented at the airport in Kabul.

She also noted that the coming days would be the "most dangerous period to date" in the evacuation efforts.

Psaki was also asked by reporters if it was ISIS-K's intention to attack Americans in Afghanistan or if they plan to conduct attacks in the U.S.

"That's not an assessment we've made at this time," Psaki said.

Psaki's comments came a day after over 100 people, including 13 U.S. service members, were killed in an explosion at one of the airport's gates.

After initially reporting Thursday that there had been two explosions, the Pentagon has backtracked and said just one explosion occurred.

During a Pentagon press conference on Friday, Army Maj. Gen. William D. "Hank" Taylor said officials do not believe there was a second explosion at or near the Baron Hotel and that it was just one suicide bomber.

“We’re not sure how that report was provided incorrectly, but we do know it’s not any surprise that in the confusion of very dynamic events like this, can sometimes be misreported or garbled. We felt it was important to correct the record with you all here,” said Gen. Taylor, the joint staff deputy director for regional operations.

Officials say the only blast in the attack occurred at the airport's Abbey gate, where a crowd of people stood.

Taylor confirmed during his remarks that the U.S. causality list from the attack has been updated to include a 13th service member killed in action. Several other American troopers are injured. An Afghan official told The Associated Press on Thursday that at least 60 Afghans were killed and 143 were wounded in the incident.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that two British citizens and the child of another Briton were also killed in the blast. It was unknown at the time if the victims had dual citizenship and were also Afghan citizens.

The general also confirmed that two flights landed at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday, carrying U.S. personnel who were wounded in the attack. He said the personnel were then transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to receive care.

In Kabul, Taylor says commanders remain on the ground, continuing to assess the risk as evacuations continue.

Taylor also provided an update on the evacuations performed over the last 24 hours, from Thursday to Friday, ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline.

“Yesterday, 35 U.S. military aircraft, 29 C17s, and six C130s departed with approximately 8,500 personnel,” said Taylor. “Combined with 54 coalition aircraft departures, an additional 4,000 personnel left Kabul for various intermediate staging bases. 89 flights total yesterday out of Kabul, totaling approximately 12,500 evacuees now safely out of Afghanistan in a 24-hour period. In the past 24 hours, more than 300 American citizens were evacuated from Afghanistan, bringing our updated total to approximately 5,100.”

Since U.S. and collation forces began the evacuation, Taylor says about 111,000 evacuees have departed safely.

“There are still approximately 5,400 individuals (at) the airport as of this report, waiting for flights out of Afghanistan. We have the ability to include evacuees on US military airlift out of Afghanistan until the very end,” said Taylor.

Taylor ended his remarks by saying the U.S. military remains committed to evacuating Americans and allies from the country ahead of the deadline.

“There are more than 5,000 US service members in harm’s way, saving as many people as they can. It’s a noble mission. We have seen firsthand how dangerous that mission is, but ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing this mission,” said Taylor. “We appreciate your thoughts and prayers for all of our service members who are carrying on this mission today. Above all, we remain focused on evacuating American citizens and other personnel designated by the Department of State, safeguarding the lives of those of whom we’re providing assistance and keeping American troops safe.”

Responding to the attack at the Kabul airport, President Joe Biden vowed on Thursday to complete the evacuation and hunt down those responsible for the killings.

“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anybody who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay,” said Biden during his remarks from the White House.

Biden said he had ordered his 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 at the moment of our choosing,” said Biden.

Biden called those killed in the attacks “heroes” who were part of a mission unlike any other.

“These American service members who gave their lives – it’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate here – were heroes, heroes who’ve been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others,” said Biden. “They were part of an airlift, an evacuation effort unlike any seen in history, with more than 100,000 American citizens, American partners, Afghans who helped us, and others were taken to safety in the last 11 days.”