Live Updates: ISIS-K Behind Kabul Attack That Killed Dozens. Biden Vows Revenge

Aug 26, 2021
Originally published on August 28, 2021 5:57 pm

Updated August 26, 2021 at 6:41 PM ET

Two explosions, one just outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul and another at the nearby Baron Hotel, killed dozens of people Thursday. Among them were 13 U.S. service members, including 11 U.S. Marines and one Navy corpsman. An Islamic State affiliate says it was behind the attacks, which came less than a day after the U.S. Embassy warned U.S. citizens to get out of the area.

Throughout the day Thursday, we maintained this live blog to capture the developments — from scenes on the ground to the reaction at the White House. This piece will not update further.

  • To learn more about ISIS-K, the group behind the Kabul attacks, click here.
  • To get a closer look at the president's speech, click here.
  • To read a chronological narrative of what happened Thursday, click here.

Update 7:40 p.m. ET:

The Defense Department has confirmed the death of a 13th U.S. service member and that 18 are wounded from the attack at the Kabul airport.

Those wounded "are in the process of being aeromedically evacuated from Afghanistan on specially equipped C-17s with embarked surgical units," said Central Command spokesperson Capt. Bill Urban.

Update 7:26 p.m. ET:

Islamic State Khorasan, the group that has claimed responsibility for the Kabul airport attack, is a regional affiliate of the Islamic State that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Khorasan" is an antiquated term for the modern-day region encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

The broader Islamic State terrorist organization was all but defeated by a U.S.-led coalition. But some affiliates emerged to form ISIS-K in late 2014, recruiting founding members that included "disaffected" militants who left the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban, said Seth Jones, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an interview with NPR's All Things Considered.

ISIS-K, which counts the Taliban and al-Qaida as its competitors, has increasingly conducted brutal and high-profile attacks, Jones said, in pursuit of its end goal to establish "an Islamic Emirate."

Update 6:41 p.m. ET:

When asked by a reporter about calls from two GOP senators — Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee — for the president's resignation, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki replied: "It's not a day for politics, and we would expect that any American — whether they're elected or not — would stand with us and our commitment to going after and fighting and killing those terrorists."

Update 6:29 p.m. ET:

The U.S. has to coordinate with the Taliban to get people out, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday, even as she maintained: "This is not about relying on the Taliban as an equal partner."

"I'm not trying to sugarcoat what we think of the Taliban. They are not a group we trust. They are not our friends."

But, she noted, through coordination with the Taliban, the U.S. has evacuated thousands of people from Afghanistan.

And, she added, the U.S. has "an enormous amount of leverage over the Taliban," including economic leverage, in order to get them to cooperate.

Psaki said President Biden had not yet called the families of those killed in Thursday's attack because the Pentagon was still notifying the next of kin.

When asked whether Biden would go to the Air Force base in Dover, Del., to receive the caskets of the U.S. troops killed in the attack, she replied: "I am certain the president will do everything he can to honor the sacrifice and the service of the lives that were lost today."

The White House had ordered flags lowered to half-staff at public buildings across the country, she said.

However, Psaki said that nothing has changed on Biden's timeline for a full withdrawal on Aug. 31.

Update 6:01 p.m. ET:

On whether he bore any responsibility: Asked where the burden for the way the evacuation has unfolded lies, President Biden said: "I bear responsibility for fundamentally all that's happened of late."

But he immediately added: "You know as well as I do that the former president made a deal with the Taliban."

That's a reference to the agreement struck by President Donald Trump and the Taliban under which the U.S. said it would withdraw from the country by May 2021 in exchange for U.S. troops not being targeted in the country. That deal largely held, and Biden has maintained that had the U.S. decided to stay in Afghanistan, U.S. troops would have become the target of militant attacks.

Separately, when asked why he wanted to stay in the country "even one more day" given the day's casualties, he spoke of the country's vow to remain until Tuesday: "I think what America says matters."

Biden was subsequently asked by NPR's Franco Ordoñez what that meant for the U.S. commitment to American allies in the country, Biden replied: "We're going to continue to try to get you out. It matters."

Update 5:43 p.m. ET:

On continuing the evacuation: President Biden said the U.S. will not be deterred by terrorists and will continue to get people out. "America will not be intimidated."

The evacuation will go on, despite the threats, Biden said. "There are individual groups of individuals — from women's groups, NGOs and others — who have expressly indicated they want to get out," he said.

Update 5:41 p.m. ET:

On whether the Taliban and ISIS-K are colluding: In response to a reporter's question, President Biden said it behooves the Taliban to keep ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, in check. "It's in the interest of the Taliban that ISIS-K is not metastasized," he said.

"We are counting on them to act in their own self-interest," he said. "And it's in their interest that we leave when we said we would. There is no evidence thus far from our commanders in the field that there has been collusion between Taliban and ISIS."

Update 5:33 p.m. ET:

On responding to the attacks: Biden sent a warning to those behind the deadly attacks near the Kabul airport:

"To those who carried out this attack ... know this: We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. "

Biden said the U.S. will target ISIS-K and ensure the "terrorists will not win."

"I've also told my commanders to attack ISIS-K assets and we will respond with precision, at our time, at a place that we choose, and the moment of our choosing."

Update 5:31 p.m. ET:

On those who lost their lives: Addressing the nation Thursday evening, President Biden remembered the service members killed: "The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, service of security, service of others. ... The fallen this day are part of a great, noble company of heroes."

Update 4:46 p.m. ET:

ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, has said it carried out the attack, according to The Associated Press and Reuters. The group posted the news on its Telegram channel, which NPR has not been able to independently verify.

Afghan refugees gather as British military secure the perimeter outside the Baron Hotel, near the Abbey Gate, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday.
Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Speaking at the Pentagon awhile ago, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said the attacks were believed to have been carried out by ISIS-K.

ISIS-K, as the group is known, has primarily operated in eastern Afghanistan and have been repeatedly targeted by the U.S. military over the past few years.

Update 4:43 p.m. ET:

There have been more loud explosions in Kabul. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claims that they are controlled blasts by the "U.S. forces inside Kabul airport to destroy their belongings." He said residents should not worry.

Update 4:15 p.m. ET:

The White House announced that President Biden will deliver remarks on the terror attack in Kabul at 5 p.m. ET from the East Room.

Press secretary Jen Psaki will brief reporters following Biden's remarks at about 5:45 p.m.

Family members visit wounded patients at the Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. Dozens of Afghans were killed and more than 140 were injured.
Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Update 4:14 p.m. ET:

An Afghan official tells The Associated Press dozens of Afghans were killed and another 143 were wounded in the attack outside Kabul airport.

Update 3:10 p.m. ET:

At a Pentagon news conference Thursday, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command, said 12 U.S. service members were killed and 15 were injured in Thursday's attack at the Kabul airport.

Many Afghans were also killed and injured, but McKenzie did not provide numbers.

About 104,000 have been evacuated from Afghanistan, including nearly 5,000 Americans, he added.

Update 2:40 p.m. ET:

Medical staff load an injured man into an ambulance after two powerful explosions outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday.
Wakil Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images

Two U.S. officials said at least 12 U.S. service members were killed in the Afghanistan bombings, including 11 Marines and one Navy medic, according to The Associated Press.

Officials say a number of U.S. military troops were wounded and warn that more casualties are expected to be reported.

Update 2:28 p.m. ET:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls the attacks at the Kabul airport "vile" and says her country will continue to help those who want to leave Afghanistan.

The last German military aircraft has left Afghan airspace, ending the country's mission there, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced. "The safety of our soldiers has priority," she said. "All are safe on their way home."

Update 1:29 p.m. ET:

A U.S. official has confirmed with NPR that at least four U.S. Marines were killed in Thursday's attack.

Update 1:17 p.m. ET:

The Pentagon says "a number of U.S. service members were killed" or wounded.


"We can confirm that a number of U.S. service members were killed in today's complex attack at Kabul airport," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement. "A number of others are being treated for wounds. We also know that a number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and injured," Kirby added.

Update 12:56 p.m. ET:

The Taliban have condemned the blast outside the airport and said the area where the blast took place was controlled by the U.S.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, wrote in a tweet, "The Islamic Emirate strongly condemns the bombing of civilians at Kabul airport, which took place in an area where U.S. forces are responsible for security."

He added that they were "paying close attention to the security."

Separately, the former head of the Afghan government's negotiating team and one of the leaders in negotiations with the Taliban, Abdullah Abdullah, also condemned the explosion.

Update 12:46 p.m. ET:

Smoke rises from an explosion outside the airport in Kabul. Gunfire and at least one other bombing has taken place across the Afghan capital on Thursday.
Wali Sabawoon / AP

What is happening in Kabul is a "full-fledged humanitarian crisis," the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a tweet. "Our government must secure the airport & evacuate the many US citizens & vulnerable Afghans desperately trying to leave the country."

Update 12:21 p.m. ET:

Although U.S. forces have suffered casualties, there have been no reports of injuries or fatalities among British soldiers or government officials, the British defense ministry said. The ministry statement did not mention whether any British civilian trying to leave Afghanistan was hurt or killed.

Update 12:10 p.m. ET:

The White House said President Biden had canceled his planned virtual meeting with governors about resettling Afghan refugees.

Biden met with his national security team Thursday morning, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, and spoke with commanders on the ground and will continue to be briefed on updates on the evolving situation in Kabul throughout the day, the White House said.

Biden's planned meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was postponed until Friday. A planned briefing by White House press secretary Jen Psaki was also delayed.

Update 11:55 a.m. ET:

The number of patients taken to Emergency, a highly respected trauma center in Kabul, is now around 60. In an earlier tweet, the nongovernmental organization said, "6 others already dead on arrival."

This means the casualty count from the explosion is at least 60 wounded and at least 6 dead. U.S. officials earlier confirmed that three U.S. Marines were injured in the explosions.

Update 11:39 a.m. ET:

The explosion outside the Kabul airport is "definitely believed" to have been carried out by the Islamic State group, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Thursday attacks were carried out by two suicide bombers and gunmen.

Update 11:29 a.m. ET:

The main hospital in Kabul said it has received more than 30 patients. Six of them were dead on arrival, the hospital, run by an Italian nongovernmental organization, said in a tweet.

Update 11:04 a.m. ET:

The explosion at the Abbey Gate of the Kabul airport was "a complex attack that resulted in a number of U.S. and civilian casualties," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a tweet.

He added that another explosion took place near the Baron Hotel, located nearby.

Taliban fighters stand on a pickup truck outside a hospital as volunteers bring injured people for treatment after two powerful explosions outside the airport in Kabul.
Wakil Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images

Update 11:03 a.m. ET:

President Biden was in the White House Situation Room with his top national security aides discussing the situation in Afghanistan when the explosion at the airport happened. Biden was briefed on the explosion, a White House official told NPR's Franco Ordoñez.

Update 10:42 a.m. ET:

According to a U.S. official, three U.S. Marines were wounded in the explosion at the airport gate. There may be at least a dozen people injured; their nationalities are not known right now.

Update 10:35 a.m. ET:

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul says the blast took place at the "Abbey Gate" of the airport. It's one of the entrances to the airport that the embassy had specifically asked U.S. citizens to avoid because of heightened fears of an attack.

A statement from the embassy Thursday says there are reports of ongoing gunfire. It adds that U.S. citizens "should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates at this time."

The embassy's latest security alert is here.

Original story posted at 10:10 a.m. ET:

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed reports of an explosion outside of the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday.

"Casualties are unclear at this time," he wrote in a tweet. "We will provide additional details when we can."

The White House, State Department, Pentagon and U.S. Embassy in Kabul have all been warning of heightened threat from ISIS-K militants in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to the ongoing evacuation effort there.

In a security alert on Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul urged Americans outside the gates of the airport to leave the area immediately, citing security threats. Officials also cautioned U.S. citizens against travel to the airport.

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One of the worst fears in the ongoing evacuation in Kabul has come to pass. For days, U.S. officials have warned of a threat of a large-scale attacks that might target the throngs trying to get into the Kabul airport. This morning, an explosion struck a gate at that airport, another at a nearby hotel. Details are still scarce, but we're joined by NPR's Quil Lawrence for the latest. Quil, what do we know?

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Eyewitnesses told NPR about a large explosion and then gunfire at the Kabul airport. As you know, thousands of people have been gathered there for 10 days now. And we saw photos of Afghans running from the scene, carrying wounded people in wheelbarrows, taking them to emergency hospital in Kabul. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed by Twitter that three U.S. Marines have been wounded, maybe dozens more of other nationalities. He said it was a complex attack, meaning probably that there was a suicide bomber involved and gunmen involved, explaining the gunfire, perhaps. He said it happened at one of the southern gates, one of the - the Abbey Gate, one of the entrance points near the civilian side of the airport. And he confirmed, as you said, a second explosion near the Baron Hotel, which is a place that people had been gathering, trying to get out of the country.

FADEL: What else did the Pentagon press secretary say?

LAWRENCE: Well, he was, hours ago, debunking a rumor that the evacuation was going to be wrapping up within 36 hours. There have been a lot of rumors that this is the last plane, this is your last chance. We have no indication that things are going to end before August 31. But you know, as you and I were discussing, this could really affect the security conditions outside the airport for those throngs of people. So far, there had been no attacks, and people have been getting quite close to the Marines at the gates. In fact, that was one of the ways in this, I guess, generously described as chaotic, system for getting people out. You know, people have been trying to get right up to the Marines and show them their passports. Now who knows what sort of precautions they'll want to put in place to keep people from getting anywhere near those Marines?

FADEL: So this may hamper evacuation efforts that are already slow and difficult.

LAWRENCE: Yeah. I mean, as you and I have seen in Iraq and have seen in Afghanistan at times of most heightened security, to approach one of these gates, you'd have to sometimes stand from 50 feet away. You'd be told over a loudspeaker to, you know, lift up your shirt so they could see whether you had something strapped - a bomb strapped to you. And if you can imagine how slow things have been going already, what if everyone approaching this airport had to stand 50 feet from the checkpoint...

FADEL: Yeah.

LAWRENCE: ...And show that they're not carrying a bomb?

FADEL: You know, give us the latest on the evacuation efforts right now. How many out so far? How many left?

LAWRENCE: The White House had said that 13,400 people were evacuated from Afghanistan in their most recent 24-hour period, ending about 3 o'clock this morning. That brings the total to 95,000. I'd imagine in the last hours they've probably gone over 100,000 since August 14, when the city fell to the Taliban. It's a chaotic mix of American citizens, of people who served - Afghans who served with the U.S. military and were promised visas and vulnerable Afghans who've just been resourceful enough to make it to one of the airport gates. They said that there are probably about 1,500 American citizens left, 500 of whom are in contact with the embassy.

FADEL: NPR's Quil Lawrence, thank you for your reporting.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.