General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Commander of U.S. Central Command, confirmed 12 U.S. service members were killed and 15 were wounded in attacks led by two suicide bombers and gunmen in crowds of people at Kabul's airport, which is the highest number of U.S. deaths in war since 2020.
General McKenzie confirmed the total in a virtual briefing on Thursday (August 26) afternoon via CNN.
The service members include 11 Marines and one Navy medic, U.S. officials confirmed to the Associated Press, adding that the death toll and number of individuals wounded could grow.
The Pentagon had previously confirmed U.S. service members were killed during multiple explosions outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul prior to confirming the death toll.
John Kirby, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, confirmed "a number of U.S. service members" were casualties of the attack in a statement shared on his verified Twitter account Thursday.
"We can confirm that a number of U.S. service members were killed in today's complex attack at Kabul airport," the statement read. "A number of others are being treated for wounds. We also know that a number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and injured."
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued the following statement on his verified Twitter account following the attacks, confirming the U.S. would continue its set plans of evacuation by next Tuesday (August 31).
"On behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defense, I express my deepest condolences to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and wounded in Kabul today," Austin tweeted.
"Terrorists took their lives at the very moment those troops were trying to save the lives of others.
"We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief.
"But we will not dissuaded from the task at hand.
"To do anything less -- especially now -- would dishonor the purpose and sacrifice these men and women have rendered our country and the people of Afghanistan."
The Pentagon didn't previously specify the number of U.S. service members killed and officials have yet to identify who was responsible for the attack prior to General McKenzie's briefing.
CNN previously reported there are some U.S. personnel among the wounded individuals as the Pentagon continued to work to confirm an "unknown number of casualties" in connection to the explosion at the Abbey Gate and another near the Baron Hotel, a short distance away, prior to the confirmation.
"We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate. We will continue to update," Kirby tweeted on Thursday.
Kirby had tweeted that "operations in Kabul will not be wrapping up in 36 hours," within an hour prior to confirming the explosion. "We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission.
President Joe Biden is reportedly monitoring the attack from the Situation Room of the White House, according to CNN.
Crowds of Afghans were gathered at the gates trying to get into the airport at the time of the attack.
The news came hours after CNN reported U.S. diplomats in Kabul suddenly warned American citizens to "immediately" leave several gates into the airport due to security threats.
The warning came hours after a U.S. defense official told CNN that American officials were notified of a "very specific threat stream" coming from the ISIS affiliate, "ISIS-K," in Afghanistan, which claimed to have planned attacks on the crowds outside the Kabul airfield.
CNN reports there is no confirmation that ISIS-K is responsible for the attack as of Thursday morning.
President Biden said prior to the report that he planned to stick to his proposed Tuesday (August 31) deadline to end the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
The mission initially began with a chaotic drawdown and has since evolved into a massive airlift, with more than 95,700 individuals being taken out of Kabul, including more than 13,400 within the last 24 hours on U.S. and coalition flights, according to the White House via CNN.
An estimated 150 American citizens in Afghanistan are still needed to get assistance to the airport, a source familiar with the situation told CNN.
That creates a scenario where Americans who want to leave and thousands of Afghan translators and/or allies could be left behind as Tuesday's deadline quickly approaches.
ISIS-K is a sworn enemy to both the U.S. and the Taliban and had previously led an attack on a school of girls that killed dozens of people, mostly children, earlier this year.
"It's hard to overstate the complexity and the danger of this effort," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday via CNN. "We're operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban with the very real possibility of an ISIS attack."
Blinken said U.S. forces have pulled at least 4,500 U.S. citizens out of Afghanistan as of Wednesday and provided another 500 Americans with instructions on how to reach the Kabul airport safely.