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Explosions At The Kabul Airport Have Killed And Injured U.S. Troops, Afghans

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After a horrific attack that's left 13 American service members and more than 60 Afghans dead, President Biden and the U.S. military are working to find their footing; this as the massive evacuation effort in Kabul enters its final days. NPR's Quil Lawrence has been following developments all day. He joins us now.

Quil, earlier, we heard President Biden address the attacks in Afghanistan. What did he have to say about the U.S. response?

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Well, first of all, he was talking about the troops, and he called them heroes and said that they were on an honorable mission of trying to help people escape from Afghanistan. And he had a moment of silence for them. This was the worst attack - worst single attack in the Afghan war in 10 years, since 2011. And it was the first attack on U.S. troops, first fatalities, in 18 months. He said that the U.S. would respond and strike against this group, ISIS-K, which has claimed responsibility. He said, though, that they would do that without major troop movements - so suggesting more of a targeted strike, not getting involved again in an invasion or a large entanglement like Afghanistan. And he said the other response would be to continue this mission, this evacuation mission, because he said America's word has to mean something in terms of the promises that have been made to get these people out.

CORNISH: What more is known about what happened today? And did the president talk at all about what could be done to increase security?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. Well, we know that for more than a week now, there's been this throng of tens of thousands of people desperate to leave Taliban-controlled Kabul, and they've been thronged outside the airport gates and getting in through a very ad hoc and chaotic method. And there had been a warning to Americans specifically last night that there might be an attack coming - a specific warning after general warnings for days now. So there must have been some intelligence that there were suicide bombers, some sort of attack afoot.

Indeed, some suicide bombers got into this crowd - and gunmen. They detonated a bomb near enough to the U.S. Marines and one Navy - one sailor at this checkpoint to kill 12 service members and dozens and dozens of Afghans. At least 60 Afghans were killed. I expect that number to rise. The CENTCOM commander gave a briefing today and said, actually, it's the Taliban that they're cooperating with to provide security. And that's what they may do - is expand this security perimeter provided by the Taliban.

CORNISH: Does this affect the plan to withdraw by August 31?

LAWRENCE: Well, General Frank McKenzie (ph), who's the head of U.S. Central Command, addressed that today, and he said that they will continue this mission.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KENNETH MCKENZIE: The plan is designed to operate while under stress and under attack, and we will continue to do that. We will coordinate very carefully to make sure that it's safe for American citizens to come to the airfield. If it's not, we'll tell them to hold, and then we'll - you know, we'll work other ways to try to get them to the airfield.

LAWRENCE: He said that even in the hours after the attack, there had been flights going out of Kabul airport. It is hard to see, however, how they can increase security and how they can improve upon what has been a very chaotic process, almost at first-come, first-serve for people who can somehow make it to the airport.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence.

Thank you.

LAWRENCE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.