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Biden to deliver address after U.S. military members killed in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will give a speech Thursday about the suicide bombings outside the Kabul airport that killed 12 U.S. service members and a number of Afghans.

The president is expected to speak at 5 p.m. ET.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday that he is concerned about additional threats to the area but that there were no plans to bring in more U.S. troops. McKenzie said the U.S. is continuing with the evacuation mission.

Two suicide bombers struck a crowded area outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday where people were gathered trying to flee the country. One attack occurred at a dense checkpoint where U.S. service members were searching people for bombs and weapons before boarding flights. The other attack occurred at the nearby Baron Hotel.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the “martyrdom attack” that involved a suicide bomber who detonated his explosive belt at the airport’s gate.

In addition to the 12 U.S. service members killed, 15 were wounded. The Pentagon was unable to say how many Afghans were killed or injured.

Members of Biden’s national security team learned of the first explosion as they gathered in the Situation Room on Thursday morning for a pre-scheduled meeting with the president. As the situation unraveled, the White House announced that a number of events on the president’s schedule were postponed, including an in-person meeting with Naftali Bennett, the new prime minister of Israel, as well as a virtual meeting with a group of bipartisan governors who were helping to resettle Afghan evacuees.

White House officials said Biden was briefed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of staff Mark Milley and commanders on the ground.

Biden had warned in recent days of a growing risk of a terrorist attack and argued for sticking to his deadline to complete the U.S. military withdrawal by Aug. 31. In a speech Tuesday, Biden said: “Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians.”

ISIS-K is an affiliate of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and is a sworn enemy of both the U.S. and the Taliban.

The U.S. Embassy on Wednesday warned Americans to stay away from the Kabul airport and told anyone outside the airport to “leave immediately.”

Democrats and Republicans have pressured Biden in recent days to extend the evacuation operations past Aug. 31 out of concern that not all Americans and Afghan allies would be able to get out by the deadline. After a shaky start, the pace of evacuations increased in recent days, with more than 70,000 people evacuated since mid-August, according to the White House.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., blamed Biden for allowing the attack to happen, saying in a statement that the president “has neither the capacity nor the will to lead. He must resign.”

McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday that roughly 1,000 Americans are still in Afghanistan but that not all of them wanted to leave the country.

Biden was criticized for not being better prepared for the withdrawal after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan’s capital last Sunday, bringing an abrupt end to the 20-year U.S. effort to restructure the Afghan government and its military.

Biden has maintained that staying longer in Afghanistan would not improve the situation.

While in office, then-President Donald Trump negotiated a deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. military personnel by May 1 of this year. After he was inaugurated, Biden said the withdrawal would be completed by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and later upped the deadline to Aug. 31.

In July, Biden insisted that a Taliban takeover was not inevitable and that the Afghan military was well-equipped and trained to keep the group at bay. “I trust the capacity of the Afghan military,” he said at the time.

A recent NBC News poll found that just 25 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan, while 60 percent disapprove. The poll was conducted Aug. 14-17 — before, during and after Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, fell to the Taliban.

Mike Memoli contributed.

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