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'Credible Threats' Against Kabul Airlift Persist After Deadly Bombing, Pentagon Says

More than 20 countries are airlifting Afghans and their own citizens out of Kabul. (file photo)

KABUL -- The U.S. military believes there are still “credible threats” against a major airlift operation at Kabul airport a day after a suicide attack on a crowd trying to flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan killed more than 100 people, including 13 U.S. troops.

The United States is monitoring the threats "very, very specifically, virtually in real time," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

"We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts," Kirby said.

Pentagon officials also said on August 27 that the deadly attack was carried out by a single suicide bomber at a gate to the airport and there was no second explosion at a nearby hotel as originally reported.

"I can confirm for you that we do not believe that there was a second explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, that it was one suicide bomber," U.S. Army Major General Hank Taylor, joint staff deputy director for regional operations security, told a briefing at the Pentagon.

Taylor added that the suicide bombing was followed by gunfire from an enemy position, but other details about the attack were still unclear.

U.S. media reports say the death toll in the attack has risen above 170. CNN and CBS News both quoted an unnamed Afghan health official on August 27 as saying the number had jumped markedly from earlier reports that around 100 people lost their lives.

A CBS correspondent added that at least another 200 people were wounded

The attack was claimed by Islamic State's Afghan affiliate, IS-K, an enemy of the Taliban as well as the West.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said the United States will avenge the attack, and Taylor said the U.S. military commander in charge “has the ability to take action as opportunities present themselves.”

About 5,400 people are inside Kabul airport awaiting evacuation, Taylor said, adding that in the 24 hours to 3 a.m. Washington time, 12,500 more people had been evacuated.

The United States will be able to airlift people out "until the last moment," he said.

General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said U.S. commanders were watching for more attacks by IS, including possibly rockets or car bombs targeting the airport.

"We're doing everything we can to be prepared," McKenzie said, adding that some intelligence was being shared with the Taliban and he believed "some attacks have been thwarted by them."

The U.S.-led evacuation resumed on August 27. Planes could be seen taking off while crowds of people returned to the area around the Abbey Gate, where the suicide attack occurred.

Deflecting blame for the blasts, a Taliban spokesman told RFE/RL’s Afghan Service that they had occurred in an area where U.S. forces were responsible for security.

“The blast did not occur in our area. At the airport, [between the Taliban and the American forces] there is a clear line. Our forces are advancing to this point, but not beyond. This is so that the American troops stationed in the field do not feel threatened, so we do not allow our forces to exceed a certain limit,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told RFE/RL in an interview on August 27.

Most of the more than 20 allied countries involved in airlifting Afghans and their own citizens out of Kabul said they had completed evacuations by August 27 in the race to wrap up operations before all foreign troops leave the country by the August 31 deadline set by Biden.

About 1,000 U.S. citizens are estimated to still be in the country, while thousands more Afghans, many of whom worked with international forces over the past two decades, are still hoping to leave because they fear retaliation from the Taliban once foreign troops have left the war-torn country.

Biden's administration has been criticized for a chaotic evacuation after the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban's takeover of the country. But the president has repeatedly defended the decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war.

This story includes reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
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