The US government had advance notice and could have avoided last week’s airport bombing that killed 13 US service members, according to a new report — as some relatives of the victims are furious at President Biden for his Afghanistan exit strategy and his conduct at a ceremony honoring the fallen.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Monday slammed an “unlawful” leak to Politico revealing that the deaths of US troops in last week’s Kabul airport bombing could have been averted, as the Pentagon was aware hours in advance of an imminent “mass casualty” attack.
Kirby was asked at a press briefing about the report, which says the US knew the approximate time and location of the bombing that on Thursday struck the airport’s Abbey Gate — but that a plan to close the gate to protect US troops was abandoned.
“I am absolutely not going to speak to a press story that was informed by the unlawful disclosure of classified information and sensitive deliberations here at the Pentagon — just not going to do it,” Kirby said.
Politico reported that the US military knew that Abbey Gate was the likely target and in the early morning hours of Thursday developed a plan to close the gate Thursday afternoon. But the gate was instead left open to allow a British operation to evacuate people from the nearby Baron Hotel. The bomb exploded around 6 p.m., killing nearly 200 people in total.
Some family members of the US victims have slammed Biden’s chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Kabul after 20 years of war — with the evacuation ending Tuesday despite reports of US citizens unable to reach the airport.
Kathy McCollum, the mother of 20-year-old US Marine Rylee McCollum, who died in the bombing, said Friday in a SiriusXM interview that people who voted for Biden “just killed my son — with a dementia-ridden piece of crap who doesn’t even know he’s in the White House.”
McCollum’s wife, Jiennah McCollum, who is pregnant with their child, reportedly was upset by a meeting with Biden on Sunday as the president watched the remains of the US service members return to the US at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
McCollum’s sister Roice told the Washington Post that Biden spoke to the pregnant widow about his own son Beau’s military service and death from cancer in what felt like a shallow and scripted engagement that showed “total disregard to the loss of our Marine.”
Biden was widely faulted for checking his watch during the casket arrival ceremony. And later on Sunday, the president refused to take a reporter’s question on whether there remained a continued risk of attacks at Kabul’s airport.
“I’m not supposed to take any questions, but go ahead,” Biden said after receiving a Hurricane Ida briefing. But when asked about Kabul, Biden said, “I’m not going to answer on Afghanistan now.”
The US government had publicly warned US citizens to avoid the airport in the hours ahead of the attack and has since carried out an airstrike against alleged planners of the bombing and alleged Islamic State operatives plotting a sequel attack — though in both cases, the identities of targets were not disclosed and there remains uncertainty about details including possible civilian casualties.
Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki about the McCollum family’s feelings during her daily press briefing Monday.
“[McCollum’s sister] said, ‘You can’t f— up as bad as he did and say you’re sorry. This did not need to happen and every life is on his hands.’… Can you talk a little bit about how the president thought the meeting with the families went — and also, what responsibility, if any, for these deaths does he think he bears?”
Psaki said that “it is certainly the right of any individual who met with the president yesterday to speak publicly about their experience. But I’m not going to speak about the president’s experience beyond what I’ve said already.”
She said that “the president made clear, as the Secretary of State and our national security adviser have made clear that we’re all responsible. And they feel responsibility and the buck stops with the president. And I think you heard him say that on Thursday when he spoke to the loss of life of these servicemen and women.”
Psaki said that Biden “absolutely” intended to stay in touch with families of Biden victims, but that it’s unclear if he will attend any of the funerals.
“He’s only going to do things that are of comfort to the family, are supportive of remembering the lives that have been lost,” she said.
Biden has sought to deflect blame for the desperate evacuation efforts by emphasizing that the US withdrawal was set in motion by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, though Trump and even some Democrats in Congress have harshly criticized Biden’s planning for the final drawdown.
On Monday, Psaki was pressed by MSNBC reporter Peter Alexander on reporting that the US had left behind billions of dollars in military equipment, including planes and armored vehicles.
“Are Americans less safe now because the Taliban now has access to billions of dollars worth of American-made weaponry?” Alexander asked.
Psaki said that “we had to make an assessment several weeks ago about whether we provide materials to the Afghan national security forces so that they could fight the fight. Obviously they decided not to fight.”
When pressed by Alexander on the effect of leaving equipment for the Islamic fundamentalist group, Psaki cited US economic “leverage” over the Taliban.
“We have an enormous amount of leverage, including access to the global marketplace, which is not a small piece of leverage to the Taliban,” she said.