President Joe Biden on Thursday vowed to make terrorists “pay” for the deadly attacks that killed 13 U.S. service members and wounded many others when ISIS militants set off multiple bombs outside of Kabul’s main airport earlier in the day.
“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said during an evening news conference. “I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.”
The president said that he believes the U.S. knows who the attackers are and that the military will “get them, wherever they are.” Biden said he told his commanders he would grant additional forces if needed to respond to the latest attacks, while acknowledging there might be more to come. But for the time being, he said military leaders had agreed to stick to the mission as designed.
“I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities,” the president said. “We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and a moment of our choosing. Here’s what you need to know. These ISIS terrorists will not win.”
The president appeared emotional as he talked about the fallen troops. Biden spoke slowly, often looking down, as he talked about losing his son Beau, who served in Iraq. After Beau Biden came home from overseas, he died from an aggressive brain cancer in 2015.
Biden called the service members heroes — people who are “part of the bravest, most capable and the most selfless military on the face of the Earth.” The president led a moment of silence for the troops he called the “spine of America.“
“We have some sense, like many of you do, what the families of these brave heroes are feeling today,” Biden said. “You get this feeling like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest. There’s no way out. My heart aches for you, and I know this. We have a continuing obligation, a sacred obligation to all of you, families of those heroes.”
The president went on to say the U.S. would complete its mission to get “as many people out” as possible while meeting the tight Aug. 31 deadline. When pressed on what he would say to Afghan allies who may not get out in time, he replied: “We’re going to continue to try to get them out. It matters.”
“We will not be deterred by terrorists,” Biden said. “We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation.”
Later, when White House press secretary Jen Psaki was pressed on whether the attacks would affect how many people can leave Afghanistan in the remaining days, she said that “it’s a good question.“
“I would note that more than 7,000 people were evacuated over the last 12 hours. Those include members from coalition partners, and we are working now — and this is one of the pieces the president’s been focused on is getting as many people out and onto these plans as possible, even as we‘re working to address these security threats on the ground,“ Psaki said. “But, I don‘t want to give you a prediction, because our U.S. military is incredible, and they are working even while they are facing security threats to continue evacuation mission.“
The Thursday attacks also wounded at least 18 troops, said Capt. Bill Urban, a CENTCOM spokesperson, in the area outside of Kabul’s airport where thousands of people have gathered amid a massive evacuation effort. Videos from the scene viewed by POLITICO showed dozens of bodies splayed outside of the airport, and the reported death toll continues to rise — at least 60 Afghans were killed and more than 140 others were wounded in the bombing, according to The Associated Press.
Biden praised the troops on Thursday for conducting an evacuation “unlike any seen in history,” while acknowledging that the operation has been “messy.”
The president in recent days has passionately defended the withdrawal and his approaching deadline, even as the chaotic operation intensifies. Biden, who said last week that the “buck stops“ with him, was asked Thursday whether he took any responsibility for how the mission has unfolded as people desperately try to leave the country.
“I bear responsibility for fundamentally all that’s happened of late,” Biden said, before taking a jab at his predecessor.
The reason the U.S. didn’t see any attacks under former President Donald Trump, Biden said in response to a reporter’s question, was because Trump struck a deal with the Taliban to have U.S. troops exit by May 1.
After his address, Biden issued a proclamation in honor of those killed in in the Thursday bombings, calling for the American flag to be flown at half-staff at the White House, all public buildings and military posts throughout the country until sunset on Aug. 30. He will also direct the flag be flown at half-staff at all U.S. embassies and other facilities abroad.
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