President Biden on Saturday vowed to continue to target the Islamic State affiliate ISIS-K in retaliation for the group’s bombing at the Kabul airport, while warning that another terrorist attack at the airport is “highly likely” on Sunday or Monday.
The State Department warned of a “specific, credible threat” early Sunday Kabul time and urged U.S. citizens to avoid the airport.
U.S. military officials announced Friday evening that a drone strike killed an ISIS-K target in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. On Saturday, officials updated that to say that two “high-profile” targets — described as “a planner and a facilitator” — were killed and one other person from the terrorist group was injured in the retaliatory strike.
“This strike was not the last,” Biden said in a statement Saturday. “We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay.”
The Department of Defense on Saturday also released the names of the U.S. service members killed in Thursday’s attack.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the names of the drone strike targets would not be released.
“The fact that two of these individuals are no longer walking on the face of the Earth, that’s a good thing,” Kirby said of the drone strike. “It’s a good thing for the people of Afghanistan, and it’s a good thing for our troops and our forces at that airfield.”
U.S. officials have said that threats continue at the Kabul airport following Thursday’s bombing, which killed nearly 200 people, including 13 U.S. service members.
The bombing has intensified already frantic operations aimed at evacuating Afghans and withdrawing U.S. troops ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline imposed by Biden.
“We are going to complete this mission by the end of the month and we’ve said that,” Kirby said. “Nothing has changed about the timeline for us and we will do this in as safe and orderly a way as possible — and that includes being able to continue to evacuate up until the very end.”
Biden said on Saturday that he directed military commanders “to take every possible measure to prioritize force protection, and ensured that they have all the authorities, resources and plans to protect our men and women on the ground.”
Gen. William “Hank” Taylor said more than 117,000 people — including about 5,400 American citizens — have been flown out of Afghanistan as part of the evacuation effort thus far. He said that 6,800 evacuees were flown out of Afghanistan on Friday and that 1,400 people have been “screened and manifested for flights” Saturday.
“This is a massive military, diplomatic, security and humanitarian undertaking for the United States and our allies,” Taylor said.
He said the U.S. is currently hosting about 8,000 “Afghan applicants” at military bases, including Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Lee in Virginia and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. While capacity at those military installations currently stands at more than 21,000, Taylor said officials are working to increase that number to 50,000 by Sept. 15.
Shortly after the Pentagon’s Saturday briefing, 11 Marines, one Army soldier and one member of the Navy were identified as those killed in Thursday’s attack.
The Department of Defense released the slain Marine Corps members’ names and ranks as: Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City; Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, Calif.; Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, Calif.; Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Neb.; Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind.; Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas; Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Mo.; Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyo.; Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif.
Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio, and Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tenn., were also listed as among those killed Thursday.
“The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others,” Biden said in a statement. “Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far.”
And Taylor said, “We grieve with the Gold Star families, friends and loved ones of the fallen. They will be remembered and revered among Americans who have served in Afghanistan in operations Freedom, Sentinel and Enduring Freedom.”