KABUL (Dispatches) -- U.S. forces in Afghanistan were on alert for more attacks on Friday after a Daesh attack more than 170 people including 13 U.S. service members just outside Kabul airport.
General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said U.S. commanders were watching for more attacks by Daesh, 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”.
Thursday’s attack took place 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.
The American casualties in Thursday’s attack were believed to be the most U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in a single incident since 30 personnel died when a helicopter was shot down in 2011.
The U.S. deaths were the first in action in Afghanistan in 18 months, a fact likely to be cited by critics who accuse Biden of recklessly abandoning without a plan.
U.S. and allied forces are racing to complete evacuations of their citizens and to withdraw from Afghanistan by an Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
Most of the more than 20 allied countries involved in airlifting their citizens out of Kabul said they had completed evacuations by Friday.
Britain said it was in the final stages while the United States said it would continue airlifting people right up to next Tuesday but will prioritize the removal of U.S. troops and military equipment on the last couple of days.
Daesh, an enemy of the Taliban, said one of its suicide bombers had targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army” on Thursday.
The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that the attack was carried out by one suicide bomber, not two as earlier thought.
The attack 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 sliding into a breeding ground for takfiri militancy.
The number of Afghans killed has risen to 157, officials said, adding 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.
Biden said on Thursday evening he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike Daesh-K, the takfiri affiliate that claimed responsibility. The group has killed dozens of people in attacks in Afghanistan in the past 12 months.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said in televised comments from the White House.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova raised the question whether the U.S. is aware about the location of leadership and facilities of Daesh terrorists in Afghanistan.
“So, the U.S. knew where the Daesh leadership and facilities were?!” she wrote on her Telegram channel.
Zakharova made the remarks after Biden stressed that he had given orders to prepare strikes on Daesh “assets, leadership and terrorists” following the deadly attacks near the Kabul airport.
Another 12,500 people were evacuated from Afghanistan on Thursday, raising the total airlifted abroad by the forces of Western countries since Aug. 14 to about 105,000, the White House said on Friday.
France has held talks with Taliban representatives in recent days in Kabul and in Doha to ease its ongoing evacuations, the foreign ministry said on Friday.
The United States will press on with evacuations despite the threat of further attacks, McKenzie said, noting that there were still about 1,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the threat of attacks would increase as Western troops got closer to completing the huge airlift and leaving.
Daesh-K was initially confined to areas on the border with Pakistan but has established a second front in the north of the country. The Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point says Daesh-K includes Pakistanis from other militant groups and Uzbek extremists in addition to Afghans.
Russia called on Friday for rapid efforts to help form an inclusive interim government in Afghanistan after Thursday’s attack, saying Daesh was trying to capitalize on chaos in the country and endangering everyone.
Up to half a million Afghans could flee their homeland by year-end, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday, appealing to all neighboring countries to keep their borders open for those seeking safety.
There are also growing worries that Afghans will face a humanitarian emergency with the coronavirus spreading and shortages of food and medical supplies looming.
Medical supplies will run out within days in Afghanistan, the World Health Organization said on Friday, adding that it hopes to establish an air bridge into the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif with the help of Pakistan.