National Security & Defense

Pentagon Spokesman Dodges Question on What U.S. Intelligence Knew ahead of Kabul Bombing

At the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 24, 2021 (U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/Reuters)

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby on Monday sidestepped a question about a report that suggested the U.S. knew where and when the suicide bombing outside of Kabul airport would take place before it happened. 

During a press briefing on Monday, a journalist noted that Politico reported the U.S. “knew roughly where the attack would take place on Thursday and when it would take place.”

“Why were there U.S. troops at the gate at that time?” the reporter asked Kirby.

Kirby largely dodged the question, responding that “we have been monitoring as close as we can intelligence that led us to believe that we were in a very dynamic and in some cases specific threat environment.”

“As General McKenzie said, we’re going to investigate,” he said, referring to General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the United States Central Command. “We’re going to get to the bottom of what happened last Thursday. Thirteen precious lives were lost and we’re not going to investigate in public.”

Then, Kirby grew increasingly defensive, adding that “I am absolutely not going to speak to a press story that was informed by the unlawful disclosure of classified information and sensitive deliberations at the Pentagon. Just not going to do it.” 

Kirby’s comment comes after a Politico report detailed meetings between senior military leaders just 24 hours before a suicide bomb attack outside of Hamid Karzai International Airport killed nearly 200 people, including 13 U.S. service members.

Military commanders on the ground were aware that an attack was imminent but kept troops at the gate so that evacuees could continue to be admitted to the airfield as the window for withdrawal wound down, the New York Times previously reported.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly told more than a dozen of the department’s top leaders to prepare for an imminent “mass casualty event.”

In the same meeting, General Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that “significant” intelligence indicated that ISIS-K was planning a “complex attack,” according to the report. 

Commanders in Kabul said that Abbey Gate, where American citizens were told to enter the airport and where the attack ultimately took place, was “highest risk.”

Later on Wednesday in another meeting, the commanders unveiled a plan to close Abbey Gate by Thursday afternoon Kabul time. However, the U.S. kept the gate open longer than planned to allow the U.K to continue evacuating its personnel.

When the attack occurred on Thursday evening at Abbey Gate, American troops were still processing entrants to the airport there.

An official told Politico that U.S. forces at the airport were “aware of and accounting for a variety of threats.”

“We took numerous actions to protect our forces and the evacuees, but no amount of effort will completely eliminate the threat of a determined enemy,” the official said. 

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