U.S. President Joe Biden pledged Thursday to hunt down suspected Islamic State suicide bombers and gunmen responsible for deadly attacks outside Kabul airport, where thousands of people had gathered in hopes of fleeing the Taliban-controlled country.
The suicide bombers had struck hours earlier at two locations along the perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport, near the Abbey Gate and outside a nearby hotel.
At least 90 Afghans and 12 U.S. troops were killed, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. At least 143 other Afghans were wounded, according to The Associated Press.
U.S. General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said during a Pentagon news briefing that 11 Marines and one Navy medic were killed and 15 other troops were injured. He said a gunfight occurred after the bombings.
Later Thursday, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a report on its news agency’s Telegram channel. The United Nations and NATO condemned the attacks, as did Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
In his address, Biden vowed to finish the evacuations and hunt down those behind the attack.
“To those who carried out this attack, 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 from the East Room of the White House.
Biden said the evacuations would continue.
“We will get Americans out who want to get out,” he said.
McKenzie echoed the president.
“We continue to execute our No. 1 mission, which is to get as many evacuees and citizens out of Afghanistan,” he said during the briefing.
"ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing the mission," McKenzie said, using an acronym for the militant group. The U.S. plans to adhere to its August 31 deadline to withdraw all troops.
McKenzie said the military believes the attacks were carried out by fighters affiliated with the Islamic State group in Afghanistan, known as ISIS-K. He also said more attempts at attacks were expected.
Biden, during his address, said, "I have also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing.”
He said there was no evidence, so far, that there had been collusion between the Taliban and ISIS in carrying out the attacks.
The attack outside the airport hit in an area where thousands of people have been gathering since the Taliban seized control of Kabul on August 15. More than 100,000 have left the country on evacuation flights, Biden said in his address.
Earlier Thursday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the explosion at the Abbey Gate was part of “a complex attack that resulted in a number of U.S. and civilian injuries.”
He said a second explosion occurred at or near the Baron Hotel, near Abbey Gate.
Speaking about the first blast, a senior Taliban source confirmed to VOA that a suicide bomber blew himself up in an area where a large number of people were present.
The explosions came hours after Western governments had warned of the threat of a terror attack at the airport and said those gathered in the area should move to a safe location.
“The overall sense of mission is focused right now at the [passenger] terminal. Lots of Marines and consular officers cared deeply about the Afghans we were helping,” said a U.S. State Department official who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. is “trying to carry on with the mission ahead, while knowing our security is severely compromised,” the official said. “Attacks occurred right at our shift change. Otherwise, consular officers might have been casualties, too.”
Biden met with his security team to discuss the recent events.
"He will continue to be briefed on updates on the evolving situation throughout the day,” the White House said.
Following the blast, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said U.S. citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates, for fear of further attacks.
“Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the embassy said.
Several of those wounded Thursday arrived at Kabul's Emergency Hospital, run by an international nongovernmental organization that treats victims of war and land mines. Afghan news channels tweeted pictures of civilians transporting their wounded in wheelbarrows.
Pakistan officials have asked, beginning Friday, that hotels across the capital, Islamabad, cancel reservations and keep all rooms at the government’s disposal for at least three weeks to accommodate the thousands of foreigners being urgently evacuated from Afghanistan.
VOA's Steve Herman, Ayaz Gul, Ayesha Tanzeem, Carla Babb and Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.