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KABUL, Afghanistan (NewsNation Now) — Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of a massive airlift that has drawn thousands of people seeking to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
The attacks killed at least 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops, Afghan and U.S. officials said.
“We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said to the airport attackers during a Thursday speech.
Eighteen service members were wounded and officials warned the toll could grow. More than 140 Afghans were wounded, an Afghan official said.
“We will not be deterred by terrorists,” Biden said. “Will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation.”
As many as 1,000 Americans and many more Afghans are still struggling to get out of Kabul.
“We continue to focus on the protection of our forces and the evacuees, as the evacuation continues. Let me be clear: while we’re saddened by the loss of life, both U.S. and Afghan, we’re continuing to execute the mission,” Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. said.
McKenzie stated the military believes the complex attack outside Kabul airport was carried out by ISIS-K, a splinter group of the terrorist group ISIS.
He added the military will “go after” the perpetrators of the Kabul attacks if they can be found.
“We expect these attacks to continue,” he said, adding that Taliban commanders have been asked to take additional security measures to prevent another suicide bombing on the airport’s perimeter. He said he sees no indication that the Taliban allowed Thursday’s attacks to happen.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a statement expressing his deepest condolences for the military members who died in the attack.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the first part of the “complex attack” occurred outside the Abbey Gate in the Kabul airport. The second attack was “at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.”
The explosion went off in a crowd of people waiting to enter the airport, according to Adam Khan, an Afghan waiting nearby. He said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who lost body parts.
“Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others,” Austin said. “We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief.”
The Taliban condemned the attack, saying it happened in an area controlled by U.S. forces.
Thousands of Afghans have been gathered at the airport for days trying to flee the country since the Taliban’s takeover earlier this month. Military officials confirmed Thursday it has evacuated more than 104,000 with over 66,000 by the United States alone and over 37,000 by other countries.
Several countries urged people to avoid the airport, where an official said there was a threat of a suicide bombing. But just days — or even hours for some nations — before the evacuation effort ends, few appeared to heed the call.
Even as the area was hit, the official said evacuation flights continued to take off from Kabul airport, which Western governments earlier warned was a target.
Over the last week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most searing images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the Taliban’s takeover, as flight after flight took off carrying those who fear a return to the militants’ brutal rule.
NewsNationNow.com has spoken with both refugees and advocates desperate to rescue as many people as possible from the country. They have described dangerous conditions on the ground as the Taliban tries to stop people from leaving.
Army veteran Chris McClanathan decried the Biden administration’s troop withdrawal strategy as he explained the struggle his former interpreter, Romal, is facing attempting to leave.
“Unless they tell me something terrible has happened. I’m going to keep doing what I can do. But it’s a shame that I have to do this. Our administration should be doing this,” said McClanathan.
Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and begun to withdraw their soldiers and diplomats, signaling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. The Taliban have so far honored a pledge not to attack Western forces during the evacuation, but insist the foreign troops must be out by America’s self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31.
The hard-line Islamic group wrested back control of the country nearly 20 years after being ousted in a U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaida orchestrated while being sheltered by the group.
Amid the warnings and the pending American withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuations, and European nations halted or prepared to stop their own operations.
The Taliban have said they’ll allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the deadline next week, but it remains unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants.