Detailed notes of three classified calls provided to POLITICO show top Pentagon officials knew of imminent threat, but struggled to close Abbey Gate.
Top Pentagon officials knew about the attack Hamid Karzai International Airport about 24 hours before it happened. According to a report from Politico Monday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned world leaders around the world to prepare for an imminent “mass casualty event.” Pakistan’s ISIS K ultimately committed the suicide bombing.
The news organization received detailed notes from three classified phone calls. That Wednesday, at about 4:30 PM in Afghanistan, Austin relayed his concerns.
“I don’t believe people get the incredible amount of risk on the ground,” Austin said then.
Later, at about 12:30 AM in Afghanistan, officials talked about the high risk at Abbey Gate. This was the gate Americans were instructed to gather at to enter the airport. They attempted to close it, but their British allies needed it open for the accelerated evacuation of their personnel. Previously, they had been based out of Baron Hotel.
Politico’s source released these notes much earlier, but the Department of Defense prevented them from publishing them any sooner than Monday.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby called it an “unlawful disclosure” in a statement. “As soon as we became aware of the material divulged to the reporter, we engaged Politico at the highest levels to prevent the publication of information that would put our troops and our operations at the airport at greater risk,” Kirby said. “We condemn the unlawful disclosure of classified information and oppose the publication of a story based on it while a dangerous operation is ongoing.”
The White House did not comment to Politico.
MG Taylor: Yesterday, U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation against an ISIS-K planner and facilitator. […] I can confirm now that two high-profile ISIS targets were killed, one wounded, and we know of zero civilian casualties. pic.twitter.com/VTEtsamXzl
— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) August 28, 2021
Since then, two ISIS K targets were killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation.
The transcript of these three conference calls, authenticated by a defense official, details conversations among the highest levels of Pentagon leadership. It makes clear that top officials were raising alarm bells and preparing for a potential attack that they had narrowed down to a handful of possible targets and a 24-48 hour time frame — projections that ended up being deadly accurate.
“This story is based on the unlawful disclosure of classified information and internal deliberations of a sensitive nature,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement. “As soon as we became aware of the material divulged to the reporter, we engaged Politico at the highest levels to prevent the publication of information that would put our troops and our operations at the airport at greater risk.
“We condemn the unlawful disclosure of classified information and oppose the publication of a story based on it while a dangerous operation is ongoing,” he continued.
The White House declined to comment further.