WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Saturday warned that another attack on the Kabul airport was “highly likely” and promised to issue a second retaliatory strike against the terrorists responsible for Thursday’s suicide bombing.
“The situation on the ground continues to be extremely dangerous, and the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high,” Biden said in a statement. “Our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours.”
Saturday evening the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said all Americans in the vicinity of the airport should leave immediately.
The embassy cited a “specific, credible threat,” and said in a statement, “U.S. citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid all airport gates at this time.”
The following areas were singled out for immediate evacuation: the airport’s south gate, also known as Airport Circle, the new Ministry of the Interior, and the gate near the Panjshir Petrol station on the northwest side of the airport.
The U.S. military is rushing to evacuate the few remaining Americans and Afghan allies fleeing the Taliban before Tuesday’s deadline for the U.S. to complete a full military withdrawal. While roughly 350 Americans are left in Afghanistan who wish to leave, there are thousands of Afghans who worked with U.S. during the 20-year war who are still trying to get a flight out of the country.
A suicide bomber attacked a crowded checkpoint outside the Kabul airport on Thursday, killing 13 U.S. military personnel and more than 110 Afghans. U.S. military forces conducted a drone strike on Friday against ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State, the terrorist group better known as ISIS, who claimed credit for the suicide bombing.
In the same statement, Biden vowed to issue another retaliatory strike.
“This strike was not the last,” Biden said. “We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay. Whenever anyone seeks to harm the United States or attack our troops, we will respond.”
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to say on Saturday whether the ISIS-K members killed in Friday’s strike were directly involved in the Kabul airport attack.
“They were ISIS-K planners and facilitators. That’s enough reason there alone,” Kirby told reporters. “I won’t speak to the details of these individuals or what their specific roles might be.”
Kirby also said that some military personnel had already begun to leave Afghanistan ahead of the Aug. 31 withdrawal. The thinning number of troops on the ground will likely lead to a slower pace in evacuations.
As the mission winds down, Biden said U.S. military personnel were continuing to evacuate civilians “despite the treacherous situation in Kabul” and he was working with his national security team to “help people continue to leave Afghanistan after our military departs.”
Lauren Egan is a White House reporter for NBC News based in Washington.