President Biden said Thursday the U.S. will “not forgive” the terrorists who killed a dozen U.S. troops and scores of Afghan civilians in twin blasts in Kabul and deepened the worst foreign crisis of his presidency.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Mr. Biden said from the White House East Room.
Mr. Biden assigned blame for the attack on the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, ISIS-K, and said the U.S. would respond at “a time of our choosing” while completing a chaotic effort to evacuate Americans stranded in the capital that fell swiftly to the Taliban.
He said he is willing to commit more troops to the effort but signaled he wants to stick to the evacuation effort that’s been criticized from both sides of the U.S. political aisle.
The president would not accept blame for the fatal attack outside of the Hamid Karzai International Airport and defended his timeline, saying any American who wants to get out of Afghanistan will be evacuated even after troops withdraw at the end of the month.
“We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation,” he said.
Mr. Biden said he stands by his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, saying he didn’t think staying longer and risking casualties would have served America’s interests in the country while terror threats rise elsewhere.
Mr. Biden also characterized the evacuations as complicated, saying there are Afghans who would probably like to leave the country but don’t qualify as persons who helped the U.S. effort, while some Americans might have reasons to stay — such as family ties — or the need for more time.
Eleven Marines and one Navy medic were killed in Thursday’s blasts. Pentagon officials said another 15 American service members were wounded.
The attacks were carried out by suicide bombers who targeted both the Abbey Gate of the Kabul airport and the city’s Baron Hotel. He also recognized the children who were reportedly among the dozens of Afghan civilians who were killed. Dozens of others were wounded.
“It’s been a tough day,” Mr. Biden said. “Terrorists attacked, as we’ve been talking about, worried about.”
The president said it is in the ruling Taliban’s own interest for American troops to finish their withdrawal given the terror attacks amid the process, as the U.S. conducts a delicate dance with the Islamist ruling militia.
“It’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of mutual self-interest. There is no evidence so far … that there has been collusion between the Taliban and ISIS,” he said. “They are not good guys, the Taliban. I’m not suggesting that at all.”
Mr. Biden said the troops who died “engaged in a selfless mission to save the lives of others.”
“They are part of the bravest, most capable and most selfless military on the face of the Earth,” Mr. Biden said.
Former President Donald Trump, who started exit negotiations with the Taliban and has been deeply critical of Mr. Biden’s handling of the departure, sent his “deepest condolences to the families of our brilliant and brave service members whose duty to the U.S.A. meant so much to them.”
“Our thoughts are also with the families of the innocent civilians who died today in the savage Kabul attack,” he said. “This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen, which makes our grief even deeper and more difficult to understand.”
Administration officials said Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed regularly on the bombings, which pushed a White House visit from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Friday.
The blasts occurred around the time Mr. Biden met with top military leaders for a morning update on the chaotic evacuation effort that is roiling his presidency.
The White House said Mr. Biden met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, “and commanders on the ground.”
Mr. Biden scrapped his mid-afternoon meeting with governors on the Afghanistan situation to take stock of the attack and its fallout.
Ms. Harris, meanwhile, joined a video feed of the military meeting in the Situation Room as she traveled back from a tour of Southeast Asia. She had an afternoon layover in Guam before heading to Hawaii.
A White House COVID-19 briefing was postponed after reports of the explosions broke, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki put off her regular daily briefing until after Mr. Biden spoke.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said American flags will be lowered to half-staff at the White House, public buildings, military grounds and naval vessels until Aug. 30.
Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden hasn’t reconsidered his Aug. 31 exit deadline because military leaders continue to believe it is important to get out by then, citing in part ongoing threats to U.S. troops.
“That is their advice,” she said.
• Ben Wolfgang and Mike Glenn contributed to this report.