Joe Biden’s national security team warned him that US troops remain under threat of another terror attack just 24 hours after the devastating suicide bombing at the Kabul airport that killed 13 US service members and at least 170 Afghans.
As US troops prepare for a possible additional terrorist attack, the US president faced mounting bipartisan criticism for his handling of the mass evacuation. The recriminations that followed the deadliest day for the US military in a decade came not only from well-known Republican antagonists, but also from prominent members of his own party.
US forces are racing against the clock to meet Tuesday’s deadline to complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan and end nearly 20 years of the so-called “eternal war.” But security risks continue to cause alarm.
In a briefing on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki painted a grim picture of the challenge that US forces still face in the final hours of the US presence in Afghanistan. He said the national security team had informed Biden that “another terrorist attack is likely at the Kabul airport.”
He added: “The threat continues and is active. Our troops are still in danger … This is the most dangerous part of the mission. “
His warning echoed a previous Pentagon statement warning of “specific and credible threats” from further attacks. Talks continued with Taliban leaders who control the area surrounding the airport in an effort to block roads and defend against any vehicle attack.
When asked by Fox News if Biden intended to kill the Islamic State-affiliated terrorists who carried out Thursday’s attack or bring them to trial, Psaki replied: “I think yesterday he made it clear that he does not want them to continue living on Earth.” .
The president of the United States is stubbornly sticking to his plan to leave the war-torn country by August 31. He has vowed to evacuate as many Americans and American support personnel as possible, as well as to hunt down the perpetrators of Thursday’s suicide bombing and make them “pay.”
But Biden is being hit by a wave of convictions for the dark turn that has befallen the American mission in its final days.
Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense and director of the CIA under Barack Obama, told CNN it was “Joe Biden’s worst nightmare losing 13 [US service members] as a result of what happened here, this has to be the worst day of his administration. “
Panetta predicted that the United States would have to return to Afghanistan to eliminate the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. “I understand that we are trying to get our troops out of there, but the bottom line is that we can leave a battlefield, but we cannot leave the war on terror.”
During a White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday, Biden called the deaths of 13 service members “tragic.” He said of the US Marines and Navy Seals present in Kabul that “their mission is dangerous and now it has come with a significant loss of personnel. But it is a worthy mission ”.
Biden did not respond to Panetta’s warning that the United States could be returned to Afghanistan to go after the orchestrators of the bombing. The White House has pointed to the US military’s “over-the-horizon capability,” that is, its ability to strike targets from bases outside Afghanistan, though no details have been given of how the Biden administration plans to go after the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State. . , Province of the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISKP), with no troops on the ground.
Despite continuing security risks, evacuation flights from Kabul continued at a frantic pace. Maj GenHank Taylor, deputy director of joint personnel for regional operations, said Friday that 89 flights had been flown between US and coalition forces in the previous 24 hours, bringing 12,500 people to safety. They included more than 300 US citizens, bringing the total of US citizens believed to be still in the country to about 700.
About 111,000 people have been evacuated since July in what the White House describes as probably the largest airlift in US history.
With America’s war in Afghanistan entering its final hours, Biden is embroiled in a high-stakes political gamble. Getting out of Afghanistan, America’s longest war, remains overwhelmingly popular with American voters despite the ruined scenes at the Kabul airport.
A new Morning Consult / Politico poll He suggested that the American people want to get out even if the withdrawal leads to a resurgence of terrorist groups based in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the heartbreaking images broadcast to US television scenes in recent days have dramatically affected Biden’s national approval rating, which has plummeted from more than 50% to 41%. The impact of the deaths of 13 service members: the highest number of US military casualties in a single day since 2011 – has not yet been reflected in opinion polls.
Major Republicans sought to capitalize on the president’s political anguish. Donald Trump appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program hours after the attack to denounce his successor’s handling of the crisis as “the dumbest move anyone has ever made, perhaps in the history of our country.”
Trump was not asked to explain how he would have done things differently, since he was responsible for the original withdrawal agreement after more than a year of talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.
Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, also questioned Biden’s handling of the evacuation. saying there would be a “reckoning day” about it. When asked if he agreed with Republicans calling for the president’s resignation, he replied, “Look, I’m extremely frustrated with this president. If you want to be president of the free world, you must have the faith, trust, and confidence of the American public. President Biden lost that yesterday. “
Amid the current tension at the Kabul airport, the exact number of Americans still in Afghanistan remains unclear. The Pentagon has said that a third of those in the country have given no indication that they want to leave, potentially reducing the number of US citizens still waiting to leave to about 400.
At the White House briefing, Psaki said diplomatic engagement with the Taliban would continue even after Aug. 31 to ensure the safe departure of American citizens and their Afghan partners who cannot leave before the deadline. He said those ties were a “necessity” given the reality of Taliban control of the country, although he stressed that “we do not trust the Taliban, it is not about trust.”
The Pentagon said on Friday they have been trying to expand the perimeter fence around the Kabul airport to increase protections for the 5,000 US troops still there. Military commanders have also tried to persuade the Taliban who control the area around the airport to block key roads to reduce the risk of explosives-laden vehicles approaching the gates.
“There are more than 5,000 US service members in danger to save as many people as they can,” Taylor said. “We have seen firsthand how dangerous that mission is, but Isis will not deter us.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism