“The threat from ISIS is extremely real. We’ve been talking about this for several days; we saw it actually manifest itself here in the last few hours with an actual attack,” Kenneth McKenzie, the CENTCOM commander general, told reporters in a briefing.
“We believe it is their desire to continue those attacks and we expect those attacks to continue and we’re doing everything we can to prepare for those attacks,” he added.
U.S. officials had warned this week about a possible ISIS attack, including in briefings with Congress.
Military officials are continuing to coordinate with the Taliban, including conveying what they expect that terrorist group to do “to protect us,” according to McKenzie. That includes pushing the Taliban to expand the ground they are patrolling outside the airport.
There’s no indication the Taliban was involved in the attack or let it happen, according to U.S. officials.
President Joe Biden vowed recently that any action against U.S. troops would trigger a swift response. Asked about that, McKenzie said that would depend on locating those behind the attack.
“If we can find who’s associated with this, we will go after them. We’ve been clear all along that we’re going to retain the right to operate against ISIS in Afghanistan and we are working very hard right now to determine attribution, to determine whose associated with this cowardly attack, and we’re prepared to take action against them. 24/7 we are looking for them,” he said.
A dozen U.S. troops were killed and 15 others were wounded by two or more explosions just outside the airport on Thursday. One went off at the Abbey Gate, an entrance U.S. troops are guarding, and at least one more went off nearby.
The exact circumstances of the attack are under investigation but the preliminary understanding is a suicide bomber got to the gate before setting off a bomb.
U.S. troops are in position at the gates to vet people trying to get through. The vetting includes checking for bombs or other weapons.
“There’s no substitute for a young man or woman, a young United States man or woman, standing up there conducting a search of that person before we let them on,” McKenzie said.
Before the first bomb went off, 104,000 people were let through the gates.
The Taliban check people at their checkpoints before letting them pass but sometimes those searches are not thorough.
The United States began controlling the airport around the time the Taliban took over the country. It’s the only ground U.S. troops control ahead of their planned withdrawal.
“Right now our focus is actually going forward ensuring another attack of this nature does not occur, because as you know the pattern is typically multiple attacks,” McKenzie said.
Biden has been briefed on the attack, according to the White House. Neither he nor any other White House officials have spoken publicly since the bombings.
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.