The Taliban released thousands of prisoners, including members of the Islamic State-Khorasan terror group, when they overran Bagram Air Base during their lightning-fast advance through Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Friday.
A member of ISIS-K was believed to have triggered a suicide vest Thursday outside Hamid Karzai International Airport, killing 13 American service members and more than 70 Afghans who were trying to make it aboard one of the evacuation flights leaving Afghanistan before the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline to fully withdraw from the country.
On Friday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that he didn’t have an exact tally of the ISIS-K prisoners freed by the Taliban.
“Clearly it’s in the thousands when you consider both prisons. Because both of them were taken over by the Taliban and emptied,” Mr. Kirby said.
ISIS-K, an ultra-extremist jihadi outfit that formed as an offshoot of the Islamic State, claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack on Thursday. The group has built its reputation on high-profile, horrific terrorist attacks, including a brutal assault on an Afghan maternity ward 15 months ago.
The decision to turn over Bagram, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, to the Afghan army was part of the “retrograde” plan ordered by President Biden to get all U.S. military personnel out of the country by the end of August.
The Afghan army “did have responsibility for those prisons and the bases where those prisoners were located,” Mr. Kirby said. “As the Taliban advanced, we didn’t see the level of resistance by the Afghans to hold some territory, some bases. And unfortunately, those were bases that the Afghans didn’t hold.”
• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.