WASHINGTON — Top U.S. national security officials on Sunday continued to warn of the "high risk" of attacks against Americans in Kabul as the United States moves to complete its final withdrawal of U.S. troops and evacuees from Afghanistan by Aug. 31.
"This is the most dangerous time in an already extraordinarily dangerous mission, these last couple of days, and so we will do everything possible to keep people safe, but the risk is very high," said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview with ABC’s "This Week."
Blinken’s interview was filmed before U.S. military officials confirmed on Sunday morning that a U.S. drone strike hit a vehicle transporting "multiple" suspected car bombers affiliated with the ISIS-K terrorist group. The car, according to U.S. Central Command, was carrying a "substantial amount of explosive material" that posed a threat to the massive U.S.-led evacuation effort outside of Kabul’s international airport.
Blinken repeated that "there is a high likelihood of additional attacks" against the U.S. operation at the Hamid Karzai International Airport "between now and the 31st."
The top diplomat’s remarks came as President Joe Biden prepared to pay homage to the 13 U.S. service members killed in an attack outside the Karzai Airport Thursday. The bodies of the fallen service members arrived for a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday where Biden met privately with grieving family members.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, appearing on CNN’s "State of the Union" said the United States is "doing everything in our power to prevent and disrupt the threat streams that we are seeing and stopping any kind of attack that would endanger the lives of American service members or civilians trying to get into the airport."
"We are in a period of serious danger given what we are seeing in the intelligence," Sullivan said. "We are taking every possible measure at the direction of the president to ensure that our forces are protected on the ground."
Blinken said the United States and allied countries were forming alternative exit plans for those Afghans unable to be evacuated by Tuesday, including ground travel to bordering nations.
The State Department on Sunday issued a joint statement co-signed by 114 countries, urging the Taliban to abide by its publicly stated commitments to allow Afghans sponsored by foreign countries "to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan."
"We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country," reads the statement.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continued to criticize the Biden administration’s handling of the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan, but several noted that the nearly 20-year operation in Afghanistan has faced multiple failures across four presidential administrations.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) faulted both the Biden and Trump administrations, noting that the latter negotiated the original May 1 withdrawal deadline with the Taliban last year. Biden ultimately moved the date to Aug. 31, to keep with a stateside pledge to leave Afghanistan before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"The reality is, the fact that we're in this position is the result of bad decisions made by two administrations," Romney told CNN’s "State of the Union."
Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) and Seth Moulton (D- Mass.), both military veterans who traveled clandestinely to the Kabul airport last week to get a gauge of the evacuation operation, described the nearly 20-year effort in Afghanistan as "failure upon failure" during an appearance on "State of the Union."
"There needs to be unsparing accountability," said Meijer. "We should have never put our American men and women in this position. And we need to realign our strategic and operational priorities to ensure that it never happens again."
Moulton added: "This has been the failure of multiple administrations," but called on the United States to recognize the "brave Americans" who have worked to evacuate more than 100,000 evacuees from Afghanistan over the past two weeks.
"That represents the absolute best of America, and that's a story that everybody in the world and every single American needs to hear," Moulton said.