U.S. forces helping to evacuate Afghans desperate to flee new Taliban rule were on alert for more attacks on Friday after an Islamic State attack killed at least 92 people, including 13 U.S. service members, just outside Kabul airport.
Some U.S. media said the death toll was far higher in Thursday’s attack, which took place near the airport gates where thousands of people have gathered to try to get inside the airport and onto evacuation flights since the Taliban took control of the country on Aug. 15.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States believed there are still “specific, credible” threats against the airport.
“We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts,” Kirby told reporters in Washington. “We’re monitoring these threats, very, very specifically, virtually in real time.”.
U.S. and allied forces are racing to complete evacuations of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans and to withdraw from Afghanistan by an Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
Islamic State (ISIS), an enemy of the Islamist Taliban as well as the West, said one of its suicide bombers had targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army”.
The Pentagon said on Friday that the attack was carried out by one suicide bomber, not two as earlier thought.
The number of Afghans killed has risen to 79, a hospital official told Reuters on Friday, adding that more than 120 were wounded. A Taliban official said the dead included 28 Taliban members, although a spokesman later denied any of their fighters guarding the airport perimeter had been killed.
Some U.S. media including the New York Times cited local health officials as saying as many as 170 people, not including the U.S. troops, had died in the attack.
The attack marked the first U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan since February 2020 and represented the deadliest incident for American troops there in a decade.
Biden was already facing strong criticism at home and abroad for the chaos surrounding the troop withdrawal that led to the Taliban’s lightning advance to Kabul.
The attack also underlined the realpolitik facing Western powers in Afghanistan: Engaging with the Taliban who they have long sought to fend off may be their best chance to prevent the country sliding into a breeding ground for Islamist militancy.
Medical staff in the operating theatres of Kabul’s Emergency Hospital worked through the night treating casualties.
“Everybody is concerned at this moment in Kabul, nobody knows what to expect in the coming hours,” said Rossella Miccio, president of the Italian aid group that runs the hospital.