1:20 PM PDT, August 27, 2021
The number of American service members killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan was raised to 13 on Friday, as President Joe Biden was informed of “credible” future threats while desperate refugees and U.S. citizens continue to crowd evacuation planes.
The Islamic State in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for Thursday’s explosion, which also injured 18 U.S. military members and killed more than 100 Afghan citizens. The Pentagon on Friday revised its initial reports that two bombs went off in the area, saying new intelligence showed a single suicide bomber attacked a crowded entry gate to Kabul’s international airport.
A total of 11 Marines, one Navy medic and an Army soldier perished in the explosion, the U.S. Defense Department said Friday.
The Navy corpsman was identified as Max Soviak, of northern Ohio, who graduated high school in 2017 and was believed to be in his early 20s. His sister, Marilyn Soviak, expressed sorrow for his loss on Instagram, writing, “I’ve never been one for politics and i’m not going to start now. What I will say is that my beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother was killed yesterday helping to save lives.”
Soviak was the first fallen service member to be identified. Other names have emerged on social media, but there has been no official release thus far of those killed Thursday in the worst strike against Afghanistan-stationed Americans since 2011, when an attack on a Chinook helicopter killed 30 service members.
Addressing the nation Thursday evening, President Joe Biden vowed, “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 blamed the country’s Islamic State regime, known as ISIS-K, for the carnage. He also expressed empathy for the families of the fallen service members and the dead Afghan civilians. Noting the loss of his own son, Beau, Biden said, “Our hearts ache … you feel like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest, with no way out.”
Retribution for the attack will occur after the current mission to evacuate Americans and allies from Afghanistan is completed, the president said. He said such vengeance will occur “in our time” and choosing.
The suicide bomber was apparently being searched and checked by U.S. service members at the airport gate when the bomb went off. “I know this, he did not get inside,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of the U.S. Central Command, said Thursday.
The entry point is staffed by military forces and U.S. State Department employees, who have been screening tens of thousands of diplomatic personnel and Afghanistan residents running from the Taliban, which seized power 12 days ago after President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of American troops in the embattled country.
U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.
“We thought this would happen sooner or later,” McKenzie said. “It’s tragic that it happened today.”
Biden and McKenzie said evacuation flights would continue. About 1,000 American citizens remain in the ravaged country, the general said.
“Right now, our focus is going forward and ensuring another attack of this nature does not occur, because as you know, typically the pattern is multiple attacks and we want to be prepared and be ready to defend against that,” McKenzie said.
The general said such threats could be “imminent” and “could occur at any moment.”
Western nations including the United States had issued dire warnings earlier Thursday, saying a terrorist attack was likely, based on “a very specific threat stream,” American officials said. Several countries, including Canada and Denmark, have halted evacuation flights, and U.S. authorities told American citizens and Afghans to stay away from the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Adam Khan, an Afghan waiting to be evacuated, said the explosion occurred in a crowd of people trying to enter the airport gate. Khan said he was standing about 30 yards away, and many people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who lost body parts, he told The Associated Press.
The ranks of Afghanistan’s Islamic State are believed to have swelled because the Taliban has freed an unknown number of prisoners as its members swarmed across the country after American troops began withdrawing in recent weeks.
The already chaotic scene at Kabul’s airport has grown steadily worse as the Aug. 31 evacuation deadline looms. President Biden has said flights will operate until that date, but American officials on the ground have warned the situtation grows more dire by the day.
“The reality on the ground is the perimeter of the airport is closed,” said Gen. Wayne Eyre of Canada, the country’s acting chief of defense. “The Taliban have tightened the noose. It’s very, very difficult for anybody to get through at this point,” he said Thursday.