A health official and a Taliban official said the toll of Afghans killed had risen to 72, including 28 Taliban members. The US military said 13 of its service members were killed.
Islamic State (IS), an enemy of the Taliban as well as the West, said one of its suicide bombers targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army”. US officials also blamed the group and vowed retribution.
General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said US commanders were on alert for more attacks by Islamic State, including possible rockets or vehicle-borne bombs targeting the airport.
“We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,” he said, adding that some intelligence was being shared with the Taliban and that he believed “some attacks have been thwarted by them.”
US forces are racing to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by an August 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden, who says the United States had long ago achieved its original rationale for invading the country in 2001: to root out al Qaeda militants and prevent a repeat of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Biden said he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike IS-K, the Islamic State affiliate that claimed responsibility.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said during televised comments from the White House.
Video taken in the aftermath of the attack showed corpses in a wastewater canal by the airport fence, some being fished out and laid in heaps while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.
“I saw bodies and body parts flying in the air like a tornado blowing plastic bags,” said one Afghan witness. “That little water flowing in the sewage canal had turned into blood.”
Zubair, a 24-year-old civil engineer, said he was close to a suicide bomber who detonated explosives.
“Men, women and children were screaming. I saw many injured people – men, women and children – being loaded into private vehicles and taken toward the hospitals,” he said.