United States President Joe Biden says military commanders have informed him that an attack on soldiers still stationed in Afghanistan is “highly likely” within the next 24 to 36 hours.
The news comes as America’s military begins its final pullout, following a deadly U.S. airstrike aimed at terrorist group ISIS-K that reportedly struck Afghanistan on Friday night.
“I directed them to take every possible measure to prioritize force protection, and ensured that they have all the authorities, resources and plans to protect our men and women on the ground,” Biden said in a White House statement posted online Saturday.
“They assured me that they did, and that they could take these measures while completing the mission and safely retrograding our personnel.”
Acting swiftly on Biden’s promise to retaliate for a deadly suicide bombing at Kabul airport, the U.S. military said it used a drone strike to kill two members of the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate on Friday night.
The suicide bombing killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members on Thursday — the same day Canada announced it would officially end its evacuation efforts in Afghanistan, despite promises from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau that the federal government would evacuate at-risk Afghans and residents who had helped Canada’s military intervention.
Canada’s Department of National Defence confirmed its forces had evacuated roughly 3,700 people from Afghanistan before ending its airborne missions.
“I said we would go after the group responsible for the attack on our troops and innocent civilians in Kabul, and we have,” Biden said.
“This strike was not the last. We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay.”
The U.S. flew out another 6,800 people on Friday, Biden said, bringing the total number of people evacuated from Afghanistan to 117,000 since Aug. 14.
The U.S. is expected to withdraw all of its remaining 2,500 to 3,000 troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, ending America’s longest war that has spanned two decades.
Biden has faced fierce criticism for the move, which he announced earlier in April.
The Taliban had moved swiftly over the last month, conquering wide swathes of land and provincial capitals — often without a fight.
The insurgent group’s movement across the country accelerated as the final U.S. military pullout approached its end date. News of the Taliban’s rapid advance towards Kabul, as well as the U.S. and other coalition forces’ exodus from the country, prompted thousands of Afghans to seek refuge.
Previous estimates placed over 400,000 Afghans having been displaced from their homes, according to the European Union, though the number is likely much higher.
On Aug. 15, the Taliban had begun entering the capital, prompting Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country alongside a number of officials.
The militants have now effectively become the de facto leaders of the country, promising to be a much more moderate government in comparison to their brutal reign from between 1996 to 2001.
The last time the group took control of Afghanistan, women had been banned from working in public and girls were not allowed to attend school. Public executions and punishments had also become commonplace among minority groups and dissidents.
New reports from the UN emerged over the last week of renewed violations being committed by the Taliban since their unofficial takeover of the country, including summary executions of civilians and Afghan soldiers who surrendered.
Thousands of Afghans, many of which aided U.S. or other coalition forces’ militaries over the course of the war, flocked to Kabul’s airport over fears of reprisals from the Taliban.
As the chaotic evacuation unfolded, including an incident that saw refugees desperate to leave clinging on to a U.S. plane that took off and resulted in the deaths of two people, one prominent terrorist group in the country would take full advantage of the commotion.
ISIS-K, also known as ISIS Khorosan, had claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing outside of Kabul’s airport that claimed the lives of over 180 people.
The group — an affiliate of the more widely known Islamic State — had operated within the country since 2015, and has been frequently listed among some of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world.
— With files from the Associated Press