President Joe Biden, facing the worst day of his presidency, mourned the loss of U.S. servicemen and civilians killed in a deadly attack outside the Kabul airport, but he vowed that the Afghanistan evacuation mission would continue.
“We can and we must complete this mission and we will,” Biden said in remarks, carried on major broadcast and cable networks. “That’s what I’ve ordered them to do. We will not be deterred by terrorists.”
He appeared close to choking up as he talked of those who were killed, and to anger as he spoke of those responsible for the attack.
A dozen U.S. service members were killed and 15 injured in the attack, according to the Pentagon, while reports indicated more than 60 Afghan nationals were killed in the attack. The attack was at an entrance gate to the Kabul airport, where the U.S. military is evacuating Americans and allies by an Aug. 31 deadline.
Biden also said that the U.S. would hunt down the culprits responsible for the attack, which officials believe was ISIS-K.
“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.”
Coming just over an hour after Commander of the United States Central Command Gen. Kenneth F. Jr. asserted “24/7 we’re looking for them” of the ISIS-K attackers, the President’s address was carried live on television, radio and online, as one would expect on a day of such crisis.
Biden mourned the deaths of service members, as Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that flags would fly at half staff.
“My heart aches for you. But I know this: We have a continuing obligation, a sacred obligation, to all of you,” the president said. He also spoke of losing his son, Beau, who served in Kosovo and Iraq, to cancer.
In his remarks, Biden spoke of the “mutual self interest” that the U.S. has with the Taliban in the evacuation, noting that the new leaders of the Afghan government do not want to see ISIS-K metastacize.
“It is in their interest that we be able to leave on time and on target,” Biden said.
He talked about those who remained who still need to be evacuated, but said that the U.S. would have to take other means beyond Aug. 31 to get people out of the country. Biden said that getting every single person out cannot be guaranteed for everybody.
After Biden’s remarks, CNN’s Jake Tapper suggested that Biden was diminishing expectations of Afghans that the U.S. would assist in fleeing the country.
“They are narrowing and narrowing the people getting out,” said CNN’s Jake Tapper. Fox News’ Bret Baier reported that there was another U.S. fatality — one Navy medic in addition to 12 Marines.
ABC, NBC and CBS all broke in to regular programming just after 2 PM PST with special reports. Already fully covering the attacks that saw a dozen U.S. military service members dead and dozens and dozens of Afghani citizens killed too, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel, as well as BBC World and C-SPAN were poised to go to the White House even as Biden walked up to the podium.
Biden took questions from a half dozen reporters after his remarks, including Fox News’ Peter Doocy.
“I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that has happened of late,” Biden said. “Here’s the deal. You know, I wish you would one day say these things, you know as well as I do that the former president made a deal with the Taliban to get all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1. In return the commitment was made…that the Taliban would continue to attack others but would not attack American forces.”
He then asked Doocy, “Remember that?”
He then had an exchange with Doocy. “I’m asking you a question. Is that accurate to the best of your knowledge?”
Doocy continued with a follow up question. “Do you think that people have an issue with pulling out of Afghanistan, or just the way that things have happened.”
Biden responded, “I think they have an issue that people are likely to get hurt, some as we have seen have gotten killed, and that it is messy.”
He concluded with a defense of his decision to follow through with his predecessor’s agreement to exit Afghanistan. “Ladies and gentlemen, it was time to end a 20-year war,” he said.