President Biden pledged to take action against ISIS-K militants and complete evacuation operations on Thursday in his first public remarks since a pair of deadly suicide bombings targeted U.S. forces and evacuees at Kabul’s airport in Afghanistan.
Biden expressed condolences for those affected by the deadly attacks and said he was in "constant contact with military leaders" on the ground. He said ongoing operations to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies "will not be deterred by terrorists."
"For those that carried out this attack as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget," Biden said. "We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command."
At least 13 U.S. service members were killed Thursday after a suicide bomber detonated a device outside Abbey Gate at Kabul’s airport. A second attack took place at the Baron Hotel, where Americans seeking to evacuate Afghanistan have gathered. ISIS militants also opened fire at the airport.
The speech marked Biden’s first remarks on the deadly attack since the Pentagon confirmed it occurred earlier this morning. Top Biden administration and military officials had warned for days of a heightened risk of terror attacks from ISIS-K and other groups. About 5,200 U.S. troops are still active in Kabul.
Biden said he directed U.S. military commanders "to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities" in response to the attacks. When asked about the timeline to complete a full withdrawal, the president indicated he would stick to his original Aug. 31 deadline.
"Our military, and I believe, to the extent that we can do that knowing the threat, knowing that we may very well have another attack, the military has concluded that’s what we should do," Biden said.
The president said he believed U.S. officials would have "numerous opportunities" to evacuate more individuals after the Aug. 31 deadline by various methods, including cooperation with the Taliban. Biden also delivered a message to Afghan allies who feared being stranded under a Taliban regime.
"I say we’re going to continue to try to get you out," Biden said. "It matters."
Biden pushed back on recent criticism over his administration's dealings with the Taliban, arguing it was a "matter of mutual self-interest" rather than trust in the group's leadership.
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said ISIS-K, a local affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group, was responsible for the attacks. ISIS-K also took responsibility for the attacks.
McKenzie added that the threat of more attacks remained high and U.S. forces were "prepared to take action" against ISIS-K militants.
Biden cited potential violence against U.S. forces as a key factor in his decision to maintain an Aug. 31 deadline for the withdrawal, warning earlier this week that "each day of operations brings added risk to our troops." The president also directed the Pentagon and State Department to craft "contingency plans" should an extension become necessary.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pressuring Biden not to withdraw until evacuations were complete.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., an outspoken critic of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal, described the attack as "sickening and enraging."
"Americans’ hearts are breaking for our service members and diplomats," McConnell said in a statement. "They are doing heroic work to rescue American citizens and Afghan partners in the predictably chaotic wake of the President’s decision to withdraw. I am praying for the families of these fallen Americans, for their injured comrades, and for all our personnel in harm’s way."
The attack occurred as U.S. officials scramble to evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghan allies. The State Department said it has evacuated about 500 of the 1,500 U.S. citizens believed to still be in Afghanistan since Wednesday.
McKenzie said evacuation operations continue following the bombing. He noted that U.S. aircraft flying in and out of Kabul’s airport were being targeted by gunfire "on occasion."