Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told top Pentagon leaders to prepare for a possible ‘mass casualty’ 24 hours before a suicide bomb rocked the rushed US evacuation at Kabul airport, new internal DOD documents reveal.
The documents, which the Pentagon denounced as a leak of classified information and urged the media not to report it, detailed top military officials trying to regulate security in a situation they already saw as high risk.
“I don’t believe people are that much at risk on the ground,” Austin said during the phone call.
Austin told more than a dozen leaders who took part in a conference call to prepare for a “mass casualty,” according to military conference notes obtained by Politics.
Defense sec. Lloyd Austin warned of a possible “mass casualty” just 24 hours before a suicide bomber detonated a bomb last week that killed 13 US troops and more than 200 Afghans. Leaked notes on talks between defense officials reveal battle to protect Kabul airport
According to notes on the security calls among leaders provided to the publication by an unnamed source, officials warned of exactly the type of attack the US now says happened: a brutal suicide bombing by ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in the region that has repeatedly clashed with the Taliban.
It all took place in a dire situation in which Taliban members provide security at checkpoints around a packed airport in Kabul, while the US tries to fly away Americans and desperate Afghans as they evacuate US troops.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley warned of “important” information that ISIS-K was planning a “complex” attack – military slang for a multi-player attack designed to inflict more casualties.
Officials even identified the airport’s Abbey Gate, where US troops were conducting security checks, as a high-risk target.
According to the report, commanders discussed a plan to close the Abbey Gate in a separate meeting last Thursday. However, US forces kept it open, despite doubts about allowing British allies to continue the evacuations at the Baron Hotel, near the gate.
“I don’t believe people get the incredible risk on the ground,” Sec. Lloyd Austin said during the conversation.
President Joe Biden had warned that the threat of attack was great
A view from the scene after at least five rockets were fired at Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Aug. 30, 2021.
In this image from the US Marine Corps, a Marine with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command cares for a young girl waiting for processing at an evacuation checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan , Thursday 26 August 2021
How the terror attack at Kabul airport unfolded and the ‘garbled’ intelligence on the ground that has caused confusion ever since
thursday 26 august
6:20 p.m.: An ISIS-K suicide bomb is detonated outside Abbey Gate and is blamed for the deaths of 13 US soldiers and 170 Afghan evacuees.
7 p.m.: The Pentagon claimed two militants were involved and an explosion had occurred at the British-run Baron Hotel.
There were also false claims that one of the bombs went off in a car.
Friday 27 August
US security sources said there was no explosion at the Baron Hotel and there was a single suicide bomber.
US President Joe Biden vows retaliation for the deaths of the 13 Marines killed in the attack, but will not delay or stop the withdrawal from Afghanistan after August 31.
sunday 28 august
Survivors of the bombing say US and Turkish soldiers guarding the Abbey Gate opened fire on the crowd that rushed towards them in the wake of the suicide bombing.
A witness said: ‘The bullet went into his head, here near his ear’
Monday 29 August
US intelligence sources tell Politico that the Americans wanted the Abbey Gate closed because it was likely the target of a terror attack – but it was kept open so the British could continue to use it.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby would not confirm the report when asked at Monday’s Pentagon briefing.
“We have followed as closely as possible the information that led us to believe that we were in a very dynamic and in some cases specific threat environment,” he said when asked.
“We’re going to investigate, we’re going to find out what happened last Thursday. Thirteen precious lives are lost. We’re going to take that seriously… And we’re not going to investigate it publicly,” he continued.
“I am absolutely not going to comment on a press story that was informed by the unlawful disclosure of classified information and sensitive deliberations here at the Pentagon. I’m just not going to do it,” he said.
President Joe Biden had already publicly warned of the high security risk during the evacuation. On Saturday he warned again, after the attack, that the chance of another such attempt was ‘very likely’. Biden took part in a dignified handover on Sunday as the bodies of US servicemen killed in the attack last week were returned home to Dover Air Force Base.
Austin did not dismiss the warnings of Rear Admiral Peter Vasely, the highest commander in Afghanistan, during the conversation.
‘We should probably listen if you have a former’ [Joint Special Operations Command] and SEAL commander on the ground say it is high risk,” Austin said at a subsequent conference call meeting.
The Pentagon, which has tried to withhold information on security specs, including the exact number of US troops, Americans willing to leave and precise efforts to fortify the airport, has blown the leak.
“This story is based on the unlawful disclosure of classified information and internal deliberations of a sensitive nature,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said furiously.
He told the publication: “As soon as we became aware of the material disclosed to the reporter, we engaged Politico at the highest level to prevent the publication of information that would put our troops and our operations at the airport at greater risk.” .’
How the Kabul Airport Bombing Happened. One of the two deadly explosions near Kabul airport took place Thursday near a hotel used to process Afghans trying to flee the repressive Taliban regime. The explosion occurred less than a mile from the airport at or near the 160-room Baron Hotel, the Pentagon said.
“We condemn the unlawful disclosure of classified information and oppose the publication of a story based on it while a dangerous operation is underway,” he added.
The publication said the notes on three calls had been verified by a defense official. It said it was withholding certain information that could affect the security situation amid risky efforts to withdraw remaining troops, Afghan allies and their families, and remaining US citizens.
An inexplicable note comes from General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, in a conversation that also involved Pentagon policy chief Colin Kahl.
“We can’t get everyone out. We’re getting 90-95 percent,” he said, according to a tally, although it was not clear whether he was referring to Americans, allies or Afghans looking to evacuate. He had also noted that the Taliban’s ability to provide security would “decay” over time.