MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Two suicide bombers detonated their explosives near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport Thursday, where thousands of people were waiting to be evacuated. At least 90 people were killed — and at least 13 of those victims were members of the U.S. military.
The attack — one of the single deadliest days for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the last 20 years — came five days before the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“We will not be deterred by terrorists,” President Joe Biden said. “We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation.”
Eleven-hundred Minnesota National Guard troops are in Afghanistan right now, including at Kabul’s airport. It is not clear yet if any Minnesota guard members were among the injured. It’s also not known how long they will be in Afghanistan.
Minnesota troops were in Kuwait, so they were in position to quickly be deployed to Afghanistan. This was confirmed on Aug. 18 by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Since 12 August we’ve deployed … two United States Marine battalions, one battalion from the Minnesota National Guard, all three of those were prepositioned in theater,” Milley said.
The announcement appears to have prompted a letter sent the next day to Minnesota National Guard families confirming the deployment to Afghanistan, but offering no details and asking families not to post to social media.
The U.S. Army’s website shows three recent pictures of the Minnesota National Guard, first from Aug. 17 with a large cargo plane full of Minnesota troops flying into Afghanistan. Another picture shows high-ranking officers of the National Guard being briefed on operations at the airport in Kabul. A third picture shows a female soldier with a group of Afghan children.
A report on the Army’s website dated Aug. 24 says the Minnesota soldiers are “securing vital sectors of Hamid Karzai International Airport,” and “providing humanitarian assistance” to those trying to leave the country. A video posted on a Minnesota National Guard Battalion Facebook shows troops assisting civilians — although it’s not clear if they are members of the Minnesota National Guard.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie says they expected the attacks, and are still on high alert.
“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 be prepared for those attacks,” McKenzie said. “If we can find who’s associated with this, we will go after them.”
President Biden says ISIS-K is behind the attack, and he has commanders drawing up plans to strike leaders and assets.
Mark Bell, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, says ISIS-K is more extreme than the Taliban.
“They’re one of the many militant groups that exist in Afghanistan,” Bell said.
But he does not think they’ll take over large chunks of the country.
“Some of the individuals involved in that network sort of emerged from splinters that came from the Taliban, but they’re also sort of a rival of the Taliban in other ways,” he said.
The Pentagon says roughly 1,000 U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan, and troops will continue to get people out — despite the very real dangers on the ground.
“The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, the service of security, the service of others, and the service of America,” Biden said.
WCCO is waiting to hear back from the Pentagon on the status and condition of Minnesota’s service members after the attack.
Gov. Tim Walz has ordered flags in Minnesota be flown at half-staff through Monday evening to honor those killed or wounded at the airport.