Biden says second Kabul airport attack likely in 24-36 hours

Taleban fighters stationed near the main entrance to Kabul's airport on Aug 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US President Joe Biden warned that conditions in Kabul during the final days of the US evacuation remain "extremely dangerous" and said his military commanders had informed him during a briefing on Saturday (Aug 28) morning that an another attack was "highly likely in the next 24-36 hours".

"I directed them to take every possible measure to prioritise force protection, and ensured that they have all the authorities, resources and plans to protect our men and women on the ground," Mr Biden said.

Americans were also told to leave the vicinity of Kabul airport immediately following a "specific, credible threat", the US embassy in Afghanistan said in a statement, telling citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and avoid all gates.

Thirteen US military personnel were killed and 18 other American service members were wounded in a suicide bombing on Thursday outside the gates of the Kabul airport, where the US has been running its evacuation operation. On Friday, the US launched a retaliatory strike that killed two members of ISIS-K, the Islamic State offshoot that has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Biden said the operation was led by US Central Command leader Kenneth McKenzie and that it "was not the last" against the group responsible for the airport bombing.

"We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay," Mr Biden said.

Despite the threat of another terror attack, Mr Biden said his military commanders had assured him they had plans to protect Americans on the ground and could complete the evacuation and drawdown missions.

As of Saturday, the US had facilitated the evacuation of about 113,500 people since the Taleban swept to control of Afghanistan on Aug 14. Earlier, an additional 350 US citizens have told the State Department they are still seeking to leave the country.

The US strike against members of ISIS-K injured a third member of the group, though Defence Department spokesman John Kirby said the strike didn't "get us in the clear" and described the threat from the group as "still active".

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While Mr Kirby said ISIS-K "lost some capability to plan and conduct missions", a US official said on Friday night that the primary target of the attack didn't have a direct link to Thursday's assault in Kabul.

The official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the operation, said the target was killed by a Reaper drone while travelling in a vehicle. Mr Kirby declined to name the people targeted or elaborate on their roles.

The latest strike marks at least the third time the Reaper, built by privately-held General Atomics, has been used in a high-profile attack.

A Reaper firing laser-guided Hellfire missiles was used in a night-time November 2015 attack in Syria that killed Islamic State terrorist Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John.

More recently, a Reaper fired two Hellfires during a night attack outside Baghdad International Airport in January 2020 that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani just after he arrived in Iraq.

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