WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House hurriedly put off President Joe Biden’s first in-person meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Thursday and canceled a video conference with governors on incoming Afghan refugees after more than a dozen people were killed in explosions outside the airport in the Afghan capital, where throngs of people are scrambling to get to planes and evacuate.
Biden was to host Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new prime minister, who is on his first visit to the U.S. since taking office. Biden also had planned to meet virtually with a bipartisan group of governors who have said they want to help resettle Afghan refugees fleeing their now Taliban-ruled country.
But deadly developments in the Afghan capital of Kabul forced the White House to tear up the president’s schedule, as he monitored the airport situation that was prompted by the Tuesday deadline he set for removing American citizens and troops from Afghanistan.
Biden’s meetings with Bennett were delayed indefinitely, while the governors’ meeting was canceled, the White House said. A regular briefing by government health and medical experts, scheduled for Thursday, also was postponed.
Two suicide bombers and gunmen targeted crowds massing near the Kabul airport Thursday, in the final days of a massive airlift that has drawn thousands of people seeking to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
A U.S. official said the attack was “definitely believed” to have been carried out by the Islamic State group, whose affiliate in Afghanistan grew out of disaffected Taliban members who hold an even more extreme view of Islam.
Despite intense pressure to extend the Tuesday deadline, Biden has repeatedly cited the threat of terrorist attacks against civilians and U.S. service members as a reason to keep to his plan.
A U.S. official said U.S. military members were among the wounded. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations.
The explosions detonated as the U.S. worked to get remaining Americans out of the country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that as many as 1,500 Americans may be awaiting evacuation.
Asked during an interview with ABC News about reports the evacuation could end on Friday, Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, declined to comment.
Wilson said “there are safe ways to get to” the airport for those Americans who still want to leave. He added that “there undoubtedly will be” some at-risk Afghans who will not get out before Biden’s deadline.