Biden warns masterminds of deadly Kabul bombings: ‘We will make you pay’

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<span>Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Joe Biden has warned the masterminds of a double suicide-bomb attack in Kabul that killed 13 US troops and 72 Afghan civilians: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”

On the darkest day of his presidency, Biden declined to extend his 31 August deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan but promised to evacuate any American citizens who want to leave.

US forces were on alert for further attacks by Islamic State, including possibly rockets or vehicle-borne bombs targeting the airport, said General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command.

On Friday, the pace of evacuation flights accelerated, and American passport holders had been allowed to enter the airport compound, said one western security official stationed inside the airport.

On Thursday, two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport. One explosion took place near an airport entrance and another at a nearby hotel. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Biden was reportedly in the situation room with his national security team when details of the terrorist attack emerged, plunging the White House into full crisis mode.

In a televised address to the nation, the president paid tribute to the fallen as “heroes” who were “engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others”, then vowed violent retribution against the Islamic State leaders responsible.

We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay

Joe Biden

With cold anger, he said: “To those who carried out these attacks today – 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.”

He said he had ordered the Pentagon to “develop operational plans to strike Isis-K assets, leadership and facilities”, adding: “We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing.”

Answering questions from reporters, Biden added: “With regard to finding and tracking down the Isis leaders who ordered this, we have some reason to believe we know who they are – not certain – and we will find ways of our choosing, without large military operations, to get them. Wherever they are.”

The president gave no sign that he intends to halt the evacuation earlier than planned or extend it beyond the end of the month. As of Wednesday, the state department said about 4,500 American citizens had been flown out, with around 1,500 still to go.

He promised to “rescue” Americans who remain in the country and want to leave and pledged: “Any American who wishes to get out of Afghanistan, we’ll find them and we’ll get them out.

“We can and we must complete this mission and we will. That’s what I’ve ordered them to do. We will not be deterred by terrorists.”

The administration had believed it was beginning to shift the narrative in its favour after evacuating more than 95,000 people since 14 August, the day before the capital fell to the Taliban.

Noting it was on track to be the biggest airlift in American history, bringing out US citizens, Afghan partners and allies, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday: “I would not say that is anything but a success.”

But the deaths of US service personnel are likely to touch a nerve with the American public and compound the domestic political pressure on Biden, whose decision to withdraw US forces by 31 August led to the collapse of the national government and army.

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, called for the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to bring the chamber back into session to consider legislation that would prohibit the US withdrawal until all Americans are out of Afghanistan.

“Our enemies have taken advantage of the chaotic nature of the withdrawal,” McCarthy said. “It is time for Congress to act quickly to save lives.”

Such a return is highly unlikely because Democrats hold the majority in the House. Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, said on Twitter: “Right now, American heroes are risking & giving their lives to execute an extraordinarily dangerous evacuation. What’s not going to help evacuate American citizens is more empty stunts & distraction.”

The White House had warned for days that the danger of an attack from Islamic State was a motivating factor in seeking to complete the evacuation by the end of the month.

With Afghanistan unravelling and the coronavirus resurgent, Biden’s overall job approval rating now stands at 41% who approve versus 55% who disapprove, according to a new USA Today/ Suffolk University opinion poll.

On a day of tragedy, Republicans mourned the loss of life and withheld their most biting criticisms of Biden. Donald Trump, the former president, said in a statement: “Melania and I send our deepest condolences to the families of our brilliant and brave Service Members whose duty to the USA meant so much to them. Our thoughts are also with the families of the innocent civilians who died today in the savage Kabul attack.

“This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen, which makes our grief even deeper and more difficult to understand.”

But some Republicans were more aggressive in their rhetoric and even called for Biden to resign.

Josh Hawley, a senator for Missouri, said: “It is now painfully clear he has neither the will nor the capacity to lead. He must resign.”

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