An explosion and some gunfire was reported just before 10 a.m. Eastern time at the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Photo from Department of Defense.
UPDATE, 8:10 p.m. EST Aug. 26:
The Pentagon and CENTCOM announced that a 13th US service member has died from wounds sustained in the suicide bombing at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. The total includes 10 Marines, two Army soldiers, and one Navy corpsman.
Navy Capt. William Urban told CNN, “A thirteenth US service member has died from his wounds suffered as a result of the attack on Abbey Gate. […] The latest number of injured is now 18.”
Previous reporting of 11 deaths among Marines was incorrect. A note has been placed in earlier entries of this story to reflect the correct number.
UPDATE, 6:40 p.m. EST Aug. 26:
President Joe Biden addressed a grieving nation late Thursday about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. He gave his condolences to the families of the 12 US service members killed outside Hamid Karzai International Airport while they conducted evacuation operations in Kabul.
Following his sentiments, a warning:
“To those that carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this, we will not forgive. We will not forget,” Biden said. “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
The president said the military has an idea of where the perpetrators — Afghanistan’s Islamic State Khorasan branch — are hiding. The US will respond forcefully and with precision, Biden said, but without a large military operation.
The series of attacks Thursday left 11 Marines, and one Navy corpsman dead.
[Editor’s note: The Pentagon has since clarified that 10 Marines were killed in the blast, not 11.]
The president stood by his words, spoken time and time again, that he does not regret his decision to pull out of Afghanistan. The reported number of civilian casualties varies, but as many as 60 Afghans were killed and another 140 wounded.
UPDATE, 4:21 p.m. EST Aug. 26:
The Pentagon confirmed that 11 Marines and one Navy Corpsman were killed by a suicide bomber Thursday on the outskirts of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Another 15 service members were wounded. The terrorist group ISIS-K is allegedly responsible for the series of explosions that rocked the area surrounding the airport.
Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of US Central Command, told reporters Thursday that the US believes Afghanistan’s chapter of the Islamic State group, ISIS-K, is responsible for the attacks. The group has allegedly claimed responsibility for the attacks over Twitter, but Coffee or Die Magazine is unable to verify the post at this time.
Islamic State (IS/ISKP) officially claims the #KabulAirport attack and releases picture of one suicide bomber (PBIED) identified by IS as Abdul Rehman Al-Loghri (which indicates he was probably from Logar province) #Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/lYOYRpvFac
— FJ (@Natsecjeff) August 26, 2021
Long before the attacks, the United States told the Taliban that it would “retain the right” to operate against the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. McKenzie told reporters that the US will go after those responsible for the attacks.
“If we can find who’s associated with this, we will go after them,” he said. “We’re working very hard right now to determine attribution, to determine who is associated with this cowardly attack, and we are going to take action against them. 24/7 we are looking for them.”
McKenzie told reporters the attack occurred at a checkpoint where Marines were conducting in-person screenings. He said that the Taliban are also conducting security searches in the outer perimeter of the airport — and sometimes they do a good job, sometimes they don’t. McKenzie doesn’t believe the Taliban would have allowed a suicide bomber to slip through security because of a shared mission with the US.
“They have a practical reason for wanting us to get out of here by the 31st of August, they want to reclaim the airfield. We want to get out by that date too, if it’s possible to do so. So we share a common purpose. As long as we’ve kept that common purpose aligned, they’ve been useful to work with, they’ve cut some of our security concerns down.”
The evacuation operation has always been a dangerous one. And the threat from ISIS-K, McKenzie said, is very real.
“We have put more than 5,000 US service members at risk to save as many civilians as we can. It’s a noble mission, and today we have seen firsthand how dangerous that mission is,” he said. “ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing the mission, I can assure you of that.”
To date, more than 104,000 people have been screened and evacuated from Kabul. Another 5,000 are on standby inside the airfield, waiting for their flight out.
The death toll from the bombings is the highest number of American combat deaths in a single incident in the country in over a decade. In August 2011, 38 Americans died when a CH-47, with a call sign of Extortion 17, was shot down.
The bombing appears to be the work of ISIS elements operating in Afghanistan, according to a wide range of reporting from the scene and US officials. A tweet in Pashto from a known Taliban-associated Twitter account also placed the blame on ISIS fighters, saying the following, per Google Translate:
Response: The Islamic Emirate strongly condemns the bombing of civilians at Kabul airport, which took place in an area where US forces are responsible for security. The Islamic Emirate is paying close attention to the security and protection of its people, and evil circles will be strictly stopped.
اسلامي امارت د کابل په هوايي ډګر کې په ملکي خلکو چاودنه په کلکه غندي، یاده چاودنه په هغه سیمه کې ترسره شوې چې د امنيت مسئولیت يې د امريکايي ځواکونو په لاس کې دی.
اسلامي امارت د خپلو خلکو امنيت او ساتنې ته کلک متوجه دی، د شر غوښتونکو کړيو مخه به په کلکه سره ونيول شي.
— Suhail Shaheen. محمد سهیل شاهین (@suhailshaheen1) August 26, 2021
Matt White is a former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.
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