UPDATE AUG. 28 at 5 P.M. ET: Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor said at the Defense Department press briefing on Afghanistan Friday that there was only one suicide bombing attack in Kabul Thursday and not two, as previously reported.
“I can confirm for you that we do not believe that there was a second explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, that it was one suicide bomber. We are 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 cause information sometimes to become misreported,” Taylor said at the Pentagon.
Department of Defense officials held a press briefing Thursday following two explosions in Afghanistan that killed a dozen U.S. service members and injured many more, vowing that the terror attacks will not deter the U.S. military from its mission of evacuating Americans from the country.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby and Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command, provided an update Thursday about the situation in Afghanistan.
“Two suicide bombers, assessed to have been ISIS fighters, detonated [a bomb] in the vicinity of the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport and in the vicinity of the Baron Hotel, which is immediately adjacent,” McKenzie said.
Baron Hotel is where 169 U.S. citizens were rescued last week after they were unable to make it past the Taliban checkpoints.
“The attack on the Abbey Gate was followed by a number of ISIS gunmen, who opened fire on civilians and military forces. At this time, we know that 12 U.S. service members have been killed in the attack and 15 more service members have been injured,” he added.
McKenzie elaborated on the details of the attack during a back-and-forth with the press. “The attack occurred at a gate,” he said. “At a gate, we have to check people before they get onto the airfield. We have to ensure they’re not carrying a bomb or any other kind of weapon that could ultimately make its way onto an aircraft. So that requires physical screening. You can’t do that with standoff. You ultimately have to get very close to that person.”
McKenzie did not offer many details about the second bomb. When asked if there were subsequent attacks in Kabul following the aforementioned explosions at the airport and the Baron Hotel, he said, “I can’t confirm that there have been other attacks in Kabul.” According to McKenzie, “Typically, the pattern is multiple attacks … and we want to be prepared and be ready to defend against that.”
The explosions come five days before the U.S. military is set to withdraw completely from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years with boots on the ground. The U.S. military has spent the past several days working to evacuate U.S. citizens in Afghanistan and McKenzie expressed confidence that this mission would continue undeterred despite the terror attacks.
McKenzie emphasized that “While we’re saddened by the loss of life, both U.S. and Afghan, we’re continuing to execute the mission. Our mission is to evacuate U.S. citizens ... special immigrant visa holders, U.S. embassy staff and Afghans at risk.”
“As the Secretary of State said yesterday, we believe that there are about a thousand, probably a little more than 1,000 American citizens left in Afghanistan at this point. We’re doing everything we can in concert with our Department of State partners to reach out to them and to help them leave if they want to leave and remember, not everybody wants to leave. Yesterday, we brought in over 500 American citizens.”
When asked by The Associated Press for his “assessment of the ISIS threat going forward” and whether the terror attacks “cut the evacuation short,” McKenzie maintained that “the threat from ISIS is extremely real. We’ve been talking about this for several days. We saw it actually manifest itself here today, in the last few hours with an actual attack.”
Throughout his remarks, McKenzie discussed a partnership with the Taliban, a terrorist group, to counter the influence of the Islamic State's Afghanistan affiliate, known as ISIS Khorasan or ISIS-K: “We expect those attacks to continue and we’re doing everything we can to prepare for those attacks. That includes reaching out to the Taliban … to make sure they know what we expect them to do to protect us and we will continue to coordinate with them … as they go forward.”
McKenzie indicated that the U.S. had shared national security information “with the Taliban so that they can actually do some searching out there for us” in addition to sharing his belief that “some attacks have been thwarted by them.”
He stressed that “We cut down the information we give the Taliban. They don’t get the full range of information that we have.”
McKenzie suggested that “If we can find who’s associated with this, we will go after them.” He indicated that even after the Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal of remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. would continue to play an active role in the country.
“We’re going to retain the right to operate against ISIS in Afghanistan. And we are working very right now to determine attribution, to determine who was associated with this cowardly attack and we’re prepared to take action against them. 24/7, we are looking for them.”
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org