President Joe Biden, addressing the nation Thursday just hours after a lethal terrorist attack in Afghanistan, held fast to his insistence on extracting all U.S. troops from that country by Tuesday.
Biden has faced withering criticism, mostly from Republicans, for setting a fixed date for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Those voices grew louder in the wake of Thursday’s attack at Kabul’s airport in which two bomb explosions and gunfire took the lives of at least 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. military personnel. An additional 18 U.S. servicemembers were injured in the attack.
Thursday was the deadliest day for the U.S. military in Afghanistan in a decade and marked the first American military deaths there in more than a year. An Afghanistan offshoot of the Islamic State terrorist organization claimed responsibility.
But Biden told reporters in the East Room and a TV audience that U.S. intelligence agencies had predicted incidents like the one that happened Thursday, and he suggested more such attacks may be in the offing and might only proliferate if U.S. troops stayed beyond Aug. 31.
“This is why, from the outset, I’ve repeatedly said this mission was extraordinary and really dangerous, and why I’ve been so determined to limit the duration of this mission,” Biden said.
Biden also said he has instructed U.S. commanders to find those who launched the attacks.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said.
‘Screw the deadline’
Critics have urged Biden to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan for as long as necessary to fly out Americans and allies who are trying to leave.
Thursday’s attacks will make the evacuation operation harder, and the killings only underscore the importance of the United States keeping its troops at the airport as long as necessary, they argue, even though the attacks have made clear the risks to U.S. troops and civilians.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has insisted Congress send the president legislation that would require all U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan until the evacuation is complete.
"Our enemies have taken advantage of the chaotic nature of Biden's withdrawal," McCarthy tweeted Thursday. "Speaker Pelosi must bring Congress back before Aug 31 so we can be briefed thoroughly by the Administration and prohibit the withdrawal of our troops until every American is safely out."
Mike D. Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement Thursday in which he said: “Screw the deadline.”
The United States, Rogers said, “doesn’t take orders from terrorists — President Biden needs to do whatever it takes to get U.S. citizens out of Afghanistan."
Biden said his focus is on “getting as many people out as we can within the time frame allotted.”
Biden also gave broadly worded assurances that, after U.S. troops have left Afghanistan, there will still be unspecified ways of extracting Americans and allies who want to leave but were not able to get out by Aug. 31.
“We will continue, after our troops have withdrawn, to find means by which we find any American who wishes to get out of Afghanistan,” Biden said. “We will find them, and we will get them out.”
After Aug 31, he added, “we're going to be in a circumstance where there will be, I believe, numerous opportunities to continue to provide access for additional persons to get out of Afghanistan, either through means that we provide or are provided through cooperation with the Taliban.”