American Troops Confirmed Killed In Kabul Airport Terror Bombing (Updated)
A complex attack on the heart of America’s evacuation operation in Kabul has caused the deaths of multiple U.S. servicepeople and even more Afghans.
The Pentagon has confirmed that a number of U.S. service members were killed and wounded in a complex terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan's capital Kabul today. At least 13 Afghans have also died as a result of the attack and scores more were wounded. You can get up to speed on what else is known so far about this incident in The War Zone's initial reporting here.
A statement from Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby did not say specifically how many Americans had died or were wounded, or otherwise provide any details about who those individuals were. The Wall Street Journal had already reported that four U.S. Marines were killed and three more were wounded, but this remains unconfirmed. Prior to this, the last two confirmed U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan were two U.S. Army special forces soldiers who were killed in action in Nangarhar province on Feb. 8, 2020.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility for today's attack, but there are reports that U.S. officials believe it was the work of ISIS' franchise in Afghanistan. Also referred to as ISIS Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K, this group treats the United States and its allies and partners, as well as the Taliban, as enemies.
There are also unconfirmed reports that more attacks may be imminent, as well.
What this might mean for the U.S. military's timeline for withdrawing entirely from Afghanistan, something that is presently set to be complete by Aug. 31, remains to be seen. At present, there is no indication that the U.S. government has halted evacuation operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport. At the same time, various other foreign countries have closed out their missions entirely in Kabul already, or are preparing to do so, ahead of the American deadline.
We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
Update 2:25 PM EST:
There are reports emerging that the total number of U.S. military fatalities from this terrorist attack may be substantially higher than the initial Wall Street Journal report. So far, Pentagon has not yet provided any official casualty figures.
Update 3:00 PM EST:
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has now issued his own statement regarding today's attacks and the American casualties.
Update 3:35 PM EST:
U.S. Marine Corps Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, has now said that at least 12 U.S. service members were killed in the terrorist attack in Kabul today and that 15 more were injured. The U.S. military has also now confirmed that it has assessed the attackers to have been members of ISIS-K. An investigation into the exact specifics of the attack is still ongoing.
McKenzie added that there were still "very active threat streams" that are "imminent" and that he expected these attacks to continue. The threat streams include a variety of potential attack types, ranging from rocket attacks on the airport to car bombs. He also said that gunmen have previously directed small arms fire at aircraft landing at and taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The threat of indirect fire on aircraft at the airport could be a very serious issue, but the CENTCOM commander said that there were defense systems in place to mitigate those dangers. It's not clear exactly what he might have been referring to. There has been no clear evidence of Counter-Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar systems, such as the Centurion, which you can read more about here, in place in aerial shots of the airport or recent satellite imagery.
In addition, he highlighted how MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, and AC-130 gunships, as well as "other manned aircraft," continue to provide armed overwatch capabilities. McKenzie also confirmed the presence of a task force from the U.S. military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is at the airport Kabul, which could include the helicopters from the U.S. Army's elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment known to be there now.
The CENTCOM head said that, at least at present, evacuation operations are continuing, despite today's attacks. He also said that the U.S. military is still actively engaging with the Taliban about the security situation in Kabul, as well, and that the group's members may have thwarted other ISIS-K attacks. He added there were no indications that the Taliban were involved in today's attack.
"If we can find who is associated with this, we will go after them," McKenzie said in response to a question about whether the United States would respond militarily to this attack. "We're prepared to take action against them."
McKenzie declined to comment on whether there had been any additional terrorist attacks in Kabul after the initial incident earlier today.
Update 6:35 PM EST:
President Joe Biden has now also spoken directly to today's events. He said "We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay" and that the United States would respond directly to the attack at a time and place of its choosing.
Biden echoed earlier comments from CENTCOM commander McKenzie, saying that the U.S. military's evacuation operation was still ongoing at Hamid Karzai International Airport and that the U.S. government has been engaging directly with the Taliban as part of that mission. However, "getting every single person out can't be guaranteed," the President added.
President Biden also defended the turnover of Bagram Airfield to the now-defunct government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which occurred under highly controversial circumstances in July. He said that this base, which is situated north of Kabul, "was not much value added" and that it made more sense to center the final withdrawal and subsequent evacuation operations at Hamid Karzai International Airpot in Kabul.
Unlike the single-runway airport in Kabul, Bagram is a larger facility with two runways and significant other supporting infrastructure that is also more defensible, in no small part because it is not located inside a dense urban area. It's extremely hard to see how Bagram would not have been a valuable facility for supporting the ongoing evacuation operations.
Biden did accept responsibility for "all that has happened of late," but also reiterated his position that it was not worth more American lives to continue on in Afghanistan.
Speaking at a subsequent press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the U.S. government's current plan is to have all troops out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31. She also said that "we have an enormous amount of leverage over time" to engage with the Taliban about getting Americans and others out of the country after that date.
ISIS has also now formally claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul today.
Update 7:10 PM EST:
The U.S. military death toll from today's attack has risen to 13 after another individual succumbed to their wounds. The dead include members of the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Army.
The flag over the White House has been lowered to half-mast to honor the victims of the attack in Kabul. Flags at federal government facilities and on naval ships will also be lowered to half-mast through Aug. 30.
Update 7:30 PM EST:
Unrelated to today's terrorist attack in Kabul, Politico has reported has emerged that the U.S. government reported turned over a list of names of U.S. citizens, green-card holders, and Afghan nationals, ostensibly to facilitate their entry into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Of course, there are immense concerns that this decision put those individuals, especially the Afghans, at increased risk.
Another report from The Times newspaper in the United Kingdom says that documents with information about Afghans who had been working with the U.K. government, among other things, had been abandoned at the British embassy compound in Kabul and seized by the Taliban. This could also potentially put those individuals at increased risk.
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