Senior military officers were briefed on an Afghan terrorist bomb attack hours before a suicide bomber detonated an explosive outside Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 25.
Kabul-based commandants phoned the Pentagon at 4:30 p.m. local time to warn the risk of attack is “highest” at Abbey Gate–where U.S. civilians waited for airport entry. They stated their intention to safeguard the airport.
Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue–commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division–both phoned the Pentagon from Kabul Airport.
The pair explained different risks to three airport entrances, where U.S. troops were transporting Americans and Afghans evacuees. The South, West, and Abbey gates were potential targets according to phone transcripts.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin revealed threats were expected to intensify in the next 24 to 48 hours. He announced an impending “mass casualty event,” and instructing his team to stay “lazer-focused” on evacuating U.S. citizens from Kabul.
“I do not believe people get the incredible amount of risk on the ground,” Austin said according to Politico.
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley warned of “significant” information about Islamic State’s Afghanistan affiliate preparing a “complex attack.”
A small team comprising of Austin, Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie, and Pentagon senior policy official Colin Kahl gathered at 9 a.m. to continue discussing the imminent threat. Austin stressed he was concerned about the looming attack.
“We probably ought to listen when you have a former [Joint Special Operations Command] and SEAL commander on the ground saying it is high risk,” Austin said according to the publication.
The BL understands the White House took the warnings seriously and approved various preventative measures the commanders proposed. Washington did not “micromanage” to prevent the attack according to a defense official.
As the threat grew, McKenzie anticipated militants were less likely to support the U.S. military operation as long as they were in Kabul.
Austin’s team at the Pentagon, Central Command headquarters, and Kabul reassembled to plan for the secretary’s evening briefing. Vasely hoped to shut down Abbey Gate on Aug. 26. He revealed the north and east gates were completely blocked at the time. South and west gates remained open.
However, U.S. forces chose to leave the gate open for longer than expected to let British forces, who had expedited their evacuation timeline, keep withdrawing personnel from the neighboring Baron Hotel.
The U.S. military was still checking people arriving at Abbey Gate when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest, killing about 200 people including 13 American soldiers.
British evacuees had not yet arrived when the incident unfolded, according to a defense officer. Two British civilians were also killed in the blast.