KABUL: US forces helping to evacuate Afghans desperate to flee Taliban rule were on alert for more attacks on Friday after an Islamic State suicide bombing killed at least 92 people, including 13 US service members, just outside Kabul airport.
The White House said the next few days of an evacuation operation that has taken more than 100,000 people out of the country in the past two weeks were likely to be the most dangerous.
Some US media said the death toll was far higher in Thursday’s attack near the airport gates, where thousands of people have gathered to try to get inside the airport and onto evacuation flights since the Taliban took control of the country on Aug. 15.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States believed there are still “specific, credible” threats against the airport.
“We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts,” Kirby told reporters in Washington. “We’re monitoring these threats, very, very specifically, virtually in real time.”
US and allied forces are racing to complete evacuations of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans and to withdraw from Afghanistan by an Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
Islamic State (ISIS), an enemy of the Islamist Taliban as well as the West, said one of its suicide bombers had targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army”.
The Pentagon said on Friday that the attack was carried out by one suicide bomber, not two as earlier thought.
The number of Afghans killed has risen to 79, a hospital official told Reuters on Friday, adding that more than 120 were wounded. A Taliban official said the dead included 28 Taliban members, although a spokesman later denied any of their fighters guarding the airport perimeter had been killed.
Some US media including the New York Times cited local health officials as saying as many as 170 people, not including the US troops, had died in the attack.
The attack marked the first US military casualties in Afghanistan since February 2020 - and the deadliest incident for American troops there in a decade.
It also underlined the realpolitik facing Western powers in Afghanistan: Engaging with the Taliban who they have long sought to fend off may be their best chance to prevent the country becoming a breeding ground for Islamist militancy.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the attack as “especially abhorrent for targeting civilians trying to flee the country.
Biden said on Thursday evening he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike ISIS-K the Islamic State affiliate that claimed responsibility. The group has killed dozens of people in attacks in Afghanistan in the past 12 months.