Twelve U.S. troops and dozens of Afghan civilians were killed today when at least two bombs were detonated outside the airport in Kabul where the military is trying to evacuate thousands of people before a Friday deadline.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said his “working assumption” is that today’s attack was carried out by Islamic State suicide bombers who detonated devices outside a gate to Hamid Karzai International Airport.
“Today is a hard day,” he said.
Along with the dead, McKenzie said he believes 15 U.S. troops and dozens of civilians were injured in the blast.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin released a statement expressing condolences for those killed.
“Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others,” he said. “We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief.”
However, Austin said the violence should not deter the military from completing its mission -- the evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from Kabul, which has been overrun by the Taliban.
“To do anything less -- especially now -- would dishonor the purpose and sacrifice these men and women have rendered our country and the people of Afghanistan,” he said.
McKenzie said he has seen no evidence to suggest the Taliban was involved in the attack or allowed it to occur.
“I don't think there's anything to convince me that they let it happen,” he said. “As to whether or not I trust them -- that's a word I use very carefully. You've heard me say before, 'it's not what they say; it's what they do.' They have a practical reason for wanting us to get out of here by the 31st of August. They want to reclaim the airfield. We want to get out by that day, too, if it's possible to do so. So, we share a common purpose. As long as we keep that common purpose alive, they've been useful to work with. They've cut some of our security concerns down and they've been useful to work with going forward.”
McKenzie said that more than 104,000 total people have been evacuated, including 5,000 U.S. citizens.
“We believe there are about a little more than 1,000 Americans left in Afghanistan at this point,” he said.