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Biden vows U.S. forces will hunt down perpetrators of attacks near Kabul airport which killed dozens

U.S. President Joe Biden vowed that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan would continue and that American forces would not be deterred by today's deadly bombings near the international airport in Kabul.

WARNING: This story contains graphic images that may be disturbing

'We will not forgive,' Biden warns Kabul attackers

1 year ago
Duration 2:42
U.S. President Joe Biden vows to hunt down the perpetrators of Thursday's deadly attacks near Kabul's international airport which killed dozens of Afghan civilians and 12 U.S. service members.

The latest on Afghanistan:

  • Pentagon spokesperson says on Twitter the explosion at Kabul airport 'was the result of a complex attack' which killed at least 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops.
  • ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, which Biden said were carried out by the group's Afghan affiliate, ISIS-K. 

U.S. President Joe Biden vowed that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan would continue and that American forces would not be deterred by today's deadly bombings near the international airport in Kabul.

"We will not be deterred by terrorists," Biden said in a briefing from the White House on Thursday afternoon. "We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation."

And he had a warning for the perpetrators of the attack: "We will hunt you down and make you pay."

"I have also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities," he said, referring to the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, Islamic State-Khorasan Province, that he said claimed responsibility for the killings. "We will respond with force and precision on our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing."

Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul's airport earlier Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover. 

U.S. officials initially said 11 marines and one navy medic were among those who died. Another service member died hours later. Eighteen service members were wounded and officials warned the toll could grow. More than 140 Afghans were wounded, an Afghan official said.

The U.S. general overseeing the evacuation warned that more such attacks are expected.

"We are working very hard right now to determine attribution, to determine who is associated with this cowardly attack. And we're prepared to take action against them," Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told Pentagon reporters in a briefing. "Twenty-four-seven. We are looking for them."

Shortly after McKenzie spoke, the Islamic State, ISIS, group claimed responsibility for the killings on its Amaq news channel. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan is far more radical than the Taliban, who recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz.

The Taliban were not believed to have been involved in the attacks and condemned the blasts. McKenzie said the attacks would not stop the United States from evacuating Americans and others, and flights out were continuing. He said there was a large amount of security at the airport, and alternate routes were being used to get evacuees in.

Canadian Forces members safe

The Department of National Defence confirmed that all Canadian Armed Forces members are safe and accounted for

"The situation on the ground remains dangerous, and CAF personnel are taking all appropriate personal security measures," said a DND media statement.

It is not clear whether any other Canadian citizens or people with connections to Canada were affected. 

In a statement Thursday evening, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would continue to work with international partners to "support humanitarian efforts, fight terrorism and make sure those who want to get out of Afghanistan can do so safely.

"All Afghan people deserve to live in dignity, peace, and security," he said. "Canada expects any future government of Afghanistan to fulfil its obligations to uphold the human rights of all its citizens, as required by international law."

Bombs targeted gathered crowds

Biden called the U.S. service members killed today "heroes" and said the White House has a sacred obligation to their families. 

"The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, the service of security, the service of others."

WATCH | Biden talks about the loss of American troops Thursday:

Biden praises U.S. service members killed Thursday as heroes

1 year ago
Duration 2:58
An emotional U.S. President Joe Biden spoke Thursday about his personal understanding of losing a U.S. service member. Twelve American troops were among dozens killed in bombings near Kabul's international airport.

The bombs exploded outside the airport, where large crowds of people trying to flee Afghanistan have gathered as they await flights out of the country. Western nations had warned earlier in the day of a possible attack there in the waning days of a massive airlift.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the deadly blasts as a "horrific terrorist attack" that targeted desperate people trying to leave the country and the alliance's efforts to evacuate them from Afghanistan.

The ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, also known as ISIS-K, is far more radical than the Taliban, who recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz and condemned the attack.

Adam Khan, an Afghan waiting outside the airport, said the explosion went off in a crowd of people waiting to enter. Khan, who was standing about 30 metres away from the blast, said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who lost body parts.

WATCH | Multiple victims taken to Kabul hospital explosions: 

Kabul airport blast victims arrive at hospital

1 year ago
Duration 1:12
Multiple victims were taken to hospital in Kabul after at least two explosions near the airport. People had been urged to avoid the area earlier in the day due to bombing threats as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan continues.

One of the bombers struck people standing knee-deep in a waste-water canal under the sweltering sun, hurling bodies into the fetid water. Those who moments earlier had hoped to get on flights out could be seen carrying the wounded to ambulances in a daze, their own clothes darkened with blood.

Western officials had warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport, but that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the U.S. officially ends its 20-year presence on Aug. 31.

Over the last week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most searing images of the chaotic end of the U.S.'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.

WATCH | Former CIA agent on challenges of protecting airport: 

Kabul international airport difficult to protect, says former CIA agent

1 year ago
Duration 2:16
Creating a security perimeter around Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul is a challenge because the airport is right inside the capital city, says Tracy Walder, a former CIA counter-terrorism agent who served in Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/U.S. Marine Corps/AP Photo)

Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and begun to withdraw their soldiers and diplomats, signalling the beginning of the end of one of history's largest airlifts. The Taliban have so far honoured a pledge not to attack Western forces during the evacuation but insist that foreign troops must be out by the self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31 set by the U.S.

Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from Afghanistan's ISIS affiliate, which likely has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban's freeing of prisoners during their blitz across the country.

The acting U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said in an interview with ABC News on Thursday that the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was "clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling." 

Wilson also said there remain "safe ways" for Americans to reach the airport, but "there undoubtedly will be" Afghans who had worked with or for the U.S. in Afghanistan who will not be able to get out before the evacuation ends.

Earlier Thursday, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at those gathered at one airport gate to try to drive the crowd away, as tear gas canisters were launched elsewhere. While some fled, others just sat on the ground, covered their faces and waited in the noxious fumes.

'We have no chance except escaping'

Nadia Sadat, a 27-year-old Afghan, carried her two-year-old daughter with her outside the airport. She and her husband, who had worked with coalition forces, missed a call from a number they believed was the U.S. State Department and were trying to get into the airport without any luck. Her husband had pressed ahead in the crowd to try to get them inside.

"We have to find a way to evacuate because our lives are in danger," Sadat said. "My husband received several threatening messages from unknown sources. We have no chance except escaping."

Gunshots later echoed in the area as Sadat waited. "There is anarchy because of immense crowds," she said, blaming the U.S. for the chaos.

In this frame grab from video, people attend to a wounded man near the site of a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul Thursday. (The Associated Press)

Aman Karimi, 50, escorted his daughter and her family to the airport, fearful the Taliban would target her because of her husband's work with NATO.

"The Taliban have already begun seeking those who have worked with NATO," he said. "They are looking for them house by house at night."

Many Afghans share those fears. 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 terrorist attacks, which al-Qaeda orchestrated while being sheltered by the group.

WATCH | Canadian military flights out of Kabul have ended, top general says: 

Canadian flights from Kabul have ended, top general says

1 year ago
Duration 2:30
Gen. Wayne Eyre, the acting chief of the defence staff, briefed reporters on Thursday as Canada's effort to airlift those fleeing Taliban rule out of Afghanistan comes to an end.

The ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, ISIS-K, grew out of disaffected Taliban members who hold an even more extreme view of Islam. The Sunni extremists have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan's Shiite Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.

The Taliban have fought against ISIS militants in Afghanistan, but ISIS fighters were likely freed from prisons along with other inmates during the Taliban's rapid advance. Extremists may have seized heavy weapons and equipment abandoned by Afghan troops.

Amid the warnings and the pending American withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuations, and European nations halted or prepared to stop their own operations.

CBC's Ashley Burke brings you the latest on Canada's efforts in Afghanistan, and what officials had to say about the end of the evacuation effort:

French Prime Minister Jean Castex told RTL radio his country's efforts would stop Friday evening. Danish Defence Minister Trine Bramsen bluntly warned: "It is no longer safe to fly in or out of Kabul."

Denmark's last flight has already departed, and Poland and Belgium have also announced the end of their evacuations. The Dutch government said it had been told by the U.S. to leave Thursday.

But Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said some planes would continue to fly.

"Evacuation operations in Kabul will not be wrapping up in 36 hours. We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission," he said in a tweet Thursday, not long before the blast was reported.

Medical and hospital staff bring an injured man on a stretcher for treatment after two blasts outside Kabul's airport Thursday. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

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. Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said talks were underway between his country and the Taliban about allowing Turkish civilian experts to help run the facility.

The Taliban have promised to return Afghanistan to security and pledged they won't seek revenge on those who opposed them or roll back progress on human rights. But many Afghans are skeptical.

With files from CBC News and Catherine Tunney

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