The White House reaffirmed on Sunday its promise to capture or kill the perpetrators of the deadly attacks at the Kabul airport as Joe Biden traveled to Delaware to repatriate the bodies of the 13 US soldiers who died.
The “dignified transfer” of the remains of the victims at Dover Air Force Base provided the darkest moment of Biden’s presidency to date, marking a crisis in Afghanistan that has seen his popularity decline and allowed the Political opponents exercise the chaotic end of the 20. -Year of war like a club.
As the president greeted the families of the fallen, his national security adviser reaffirmed that the United States would continue to be involved in Afghanistan, even after Tuesday’s evacuation deadline.
While Biden “has no intention of starting a new war in Afghanistan,” Jake Sullivan told CBS’s Face the Nation, the president will continue to deploy drone strikes and help American and Afghan allies leave.
Thirteen US soldiers and up to 170 Afghans were killed in the suicide bomb and firearm attack on Thursday. Biden said Saturday that the drone strike that killed two Islamic State targets on Friday “was not the last and we will continue to pursue those involved.”
The president also warned that a new IS terrorist attack is likely “in 24 to 36 hours.”
On Sunday, US officials told Reuters that US forces launched an attack in Kabul on Sunday, targeting a possible suicide car bomb believed to have targeted the airport.
Reuters reported that officials said the targets were suspected militants of the Islamic State, the group that claimed the airport attack on Thursday. The agency also said that witnesses reported an explosion while television footage showed black smoke.
Sullivan said: “He is also going to talk to his commanders about any set of tools and capabilities they need to catch the people who attacked and killed our troops at the Kabul airport and to make sure we are degrading and weakening the group, Isis -K, who carried out this attack.
“So, yes, we will continue to take the kind of strikes on the horizon as we did over the weekend against the Isis-K facilitators and conspirators. And yes, we will consider other operations to hunt down these guys, to catch them and get them off the battlefield. “
The Taliban, who control Afghanistan, protested Friday’s strike. Sullivan said that “over the horizon” meant that such attacks would be launched regardless of the Taliban’s wishes. He also indicated that such strikes could be implemented outside the country.
Anthony Blinken, the secretary of state, estimated that some 300 US citizens remain in Afghanistan and want to leave.
“We are working very actively to help them get to the airport, get on a plane and get out of Afghanistan,” Blinken told ABC’s This Week, shortly after the White House announced that the pace of evacuations had slowed. The US military removed some 2,900 people from Kabul in the 24 hours to 3 a.m. Sunday, less than half of the 6,800 evacuated the previous day.
Blinken was asked how the US mission could continue with its embassy closed and military assets missing.
He said: “114 countries have made it very clear that they expect the Taliban to allow freedom to travel after August 31, so that is a clear expectation across the international community.
“We have a very important influence to work with over the next few weeks and months to incentivize the Taliban to honor their commitments. The Taliban have a keen interest in having a working airport [and] there are other ways to get out of Afghanistan, even by road. “
Former CIA director and defense secretary Leon Panetta said this week that the United States would be forced to send troops back to Afghanistan. Sullivan deflected an invitation to strike back.
“We are capable of suppressing the threat of terrorism,” he said, “including external conspiracy capabilities without a large permanent presence on the ground. We have done it in places like Libya and Somalia, places like Yemen. And we will do it in Afghanistan as we move forward. “
When the military began to withdraw from Kabul, the Pentagon said on Saturday it had evacuated nearly 120,000 Americans and Afghan allies. When asked if all US citizens would be evacuated before the deadline, Sullivan said: “We have the capacity for 300 Americans, which is roughly the number we think we have left, to come to the airport and get on the planes in time. that remains.
“So from our point of view, there is an opportunity right now for American citizens to come, be admitted to the airport and evacuated safely and effectively. Yet there are those Americans, and this is important, who have so far chosen not to leave Kabul. They may have lived there for many years. They may have extended family there.
“Our message to those Americans is that after August 31, we will make sure there is a safe passage for any American citizen, any legal permanent resident. And yes, we will ensure the safe passage of those Afghans who helped us to continue leaving after August 31 ”.
That would not mean relying on the cooperation of the Taliban, Sullivan said.
“It’s about ensuring that we use the influence we have at our disposal, and it is considerable, to make the Taliban honor their commitments. The Taliban have communicated both privately and publicly that they will allow safe passage. We’re not just going to take your word for it. We have brought together dozens of countries from around the world to support us and tell the Taliban that if they do not honor those commitments, there will be significant consequences. “
When asked about Biden’s morale in a White House besieged by Republicans and a suddenly hostile press, and with a Category 4 hurricane approaching New Orleans, Sullivan said: days in a word: focused.
“He is focused around the clock on protecting our forces there and completing this mission, bringing these people home safely and then executing the pushback in a professional manner.”
Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press in an interview broadcast while Biden was visiting Dover Air Force Base, Blinken offered condolences to the families of the troops killed in Kabul, including the father of Marine L / cpl Kareem Nikoui, who on Saturday she blamed Biden for her son’s death. death.
“They sent my son there as a paper dealer and then the Taliban provided security,” said Steve Nikoui. Biden turned his back on her. That is all.”
Blinken said: “If I were in his shoes, I would probably feel exactly the same way. There are no words anyone can say to ease the grief parents feel over the loss of their child.
“All I can do is take responsibility for my own actions and do everything I can to keep pulling people out of Afghanistan. That is my responsibility. But as a parent, I myself deeply feel what he expressed. All I can say is that I am very sorry, deeply. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism