WASHINGTON – That was exactly what President Biden feared most.
His decision to end America’s longest war, he has repeatedly said, was motivated by his determination not to sacrifice even another member of the military on behalf of an effort he long believed was no longer in the United States’ interest.
But on Thursday morning, the withdrawal began Killed 13 American soldiers, along with dozens of Afghan civilians – the first American casualties in Afghanistan In 18 months, it was the deadliest day for the US military since 2011.
in a incendiary notes From the East Room of the White House Thursday night, Biden vowed to “hunt” the terrorists who claimed credit for the bombings in Kabul Airport But he said the frantic and dangerous evacuation of citizens of the United States and its allies from Afghanistan would continue for several more days.
“To those who carried out this attack, as well as to anyone who wishes America would be hurt, know this: We will not forgive,” Mr. Biden said, using language that echoes grim warnings from President George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks. on September 11, 2001. “We won’t forget. We’ll chase you down and make you pay.”
America’s turbulent exit from Afghanistan has lowered Biden’s approval rating, and Thursday’s bombings are sure to expose him to political criticism. But it wasn’t clear how much damage it would do to his presidency in the long run, as he emerges from a war that most Americans want out of, too.
Before the attacks, aides to the president said privately that they did not believe there would be long-term political damage to Biden, especially since the military succeeded in evacuating more than 100,000 people in less than two weeks. But the deaths of US military personnel – and dozens of Afghans – could spoil those accounts.
And took advantage of the Republican president’s critics of the bombings and vowed to hold him accountable for the results of his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
It was a direct result of horribly misguided decisions by President Biden. “This requires painful accountability,” said Representative John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. “Our Commander in Chief is missing in action and has failed to live up to this pivotal moment in our history.”
Few Democratic lawmakers jumped to Biden’s defense in the hours after the attacks. Instead, most expressed their grief over the loss of life in Kabul.
“I am outraged by the despicable terrorist attacks on Hamid Karzai Airport,” said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island. “The loss of life today is tragic.”
Mr. Biden made his remarks about the bombings hours after the Pentagon confirmed that suicide bombers had caused the deadliest attack on US forces in Afghanistan in a decade. He expressed his “sadness” at what he described as a “difficult day”, and said he had asked his commanders to target them ISIS-K, the Afghan branch of the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“We will respond with force and precision in the place of our choosing and at the moment of our choosing,” he said.
Mr. Biden praised the sacrifice of soldiers, including 12 soldiers Marines, who lost their lives, and 18 other US service members who were injured in the blasts, while the military worked to implement its decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan.
He vowed that the United States would maintain its “sacred commitment” to the families of the fallen in Afghanistan, calling those who died in the attacks “heroes who took part in a dangerous and selfless mission to save the lives of others.”
Biden said that as president, he had taken responsibility for “everything that happened,” but again denied that his decision to withdraw troops by the end of the summer inevitably led to chaotic scenes of airport evacuations, or deaths. at the hands of terrorists.
“I had one alternative: to send back thousands of soldiers to Afghanistan,” he said. “I never thought we should sacrifice American lives to try and establish a democratic government in Afghanistan.”
But that is unlikely to satisfy his critics, including some members of his own party, who disagreed with the way Biden put an end to the war.
On Thursday morning, as news of the attacks spread, Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, described the situation in Kabul as a “total humanitarian crisis.” He said the Biden administration should complete the evacuation as planned.
He acts against the advice of his generals and vetoes some of his top foreign policy advisers, Mr. Biden announced in April His decision to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops from the country. The president said he did not want to call the parents of another Marine, soldier, or pilot killed in an operation in Afghanistan.
But the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country surprised the administration and set off a chaotic evacuation during which nearly 6,000 US troops attempted to secure Kabul’s airport against the Taliban and terrorist groups. Earlier this week, Mr. Biden rejected calls from lawmakers, activists and other world leaders to extend the US presence at the airport beyond August 31, citing the possibility of terrorist attacks.
Since August 14, just before the Taliban took control of Kabul, the administration says it has evacuated more than 100,000 people, moving them to safety. But administration officials acknowledge that there are still more Americans and Afghan allies who want to leave the country.
On Thursday, Biden said he still intended to meet his August 31 deadline for a full withdrawal. But he also said he would not rush to leave because of the bombings. He said his senior military officials told him they had the resources to continue the evacuations even in the face of constant threats while protecting the airport from what they expected would be more attacks in the coming days.
He said the continued evacuation would prove to the rest of the world that “what America says matters.”
“They’ve made it clear that we can and must complete this mission and we will do it, and that’s what I’ve instructed them to do,” Biden said of his military advisers. Terrorists will not deter us. We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue to evacuate.”
Understand the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations, and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here is more about The story of their origin and record as rulers.
Mr. Biden said the United States will continue to try to help Americans and others flee Afghanistan after the military has left the country, in part by seeking to cooperate with the Taliban in getting them out. He said the Taliban seemed, at least for now, to be interested in cooperating with the United States and other Western countries.
Biden said the Taliban are eager for economic and other aid as they once again attempt to rule the country in the coming months. He said that would give the United States leverage over the Taliban that could help find and evacuate Americans and other individuals.
“There are a lot of reasons why they are reaching out, not just with us, but with others about why it is still for their own good to get more employees that we want to take out,” he said.
Last week, while defending the way his administration handled the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Mr. Biden vowed that “any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with a swift and strong response.”
It was not clear on Thursday whether a military response of any kind was actually being worked out. But military officials said US forces on the ground have the ability to respond while also securing the airport.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of US Central Command, said the military would pursue those responsible for the attack. Mr. Biden later suggested he would not allow the attack to go unanswered, though he did not give a timeline for action.
On Thursday, Mr. Biden requested a minute of silence to remember those who died.
He said, “Every one of these women and men in our armed forces are heirs to this tradition, sacrifice, volunteering to go in harm’s way, risking everything, not for glory, not for profit, but to defend what we love and the people we love.”
Pentagon officials described the airport bombing as a “complex attack” that included at least two explosions and shootings by ISIS fighters on Americans and civilians.
Biden received word of the deteriorating situation Thursday morning as he met with top national security advisers to get a regularly scheduled update on how the evacuation is going, officials said.
The bad news – punctuated by harrowing Internet videos of corpses outside the walls around the airport – continued throughout the day amid unconfirmed reports of other explosions near the airport and a steadily rising death toll and wounded, many of them Afghan civilians. She was desperately waiting for an opportunity to evacuate.
Throughout the morning, Mr. Biden met with Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. About the explosions and what they might mean in the final days of the frantic evacuation effort underway in Afghanistan.
After news of the attacks came, the president’s schedule quickly turned.
Less than 15 minutes before Mr. Biden is He is scheduled to meet with Naftali BennettThe White House, the new prime minister of Israel, announced the postponement of the meeting. It was later postponed until Friday. A meeting between Mr. Biden and some of the nation’s rulers has been cancelled. The daily briefing by Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, was postponed until after Mr. Biden made his remarks Thursday night.