General McKenzie said it appeared that a suicide bomber, most likely wearing a concealed explosives vest, had made it through the checkpoints outside the airport, many of them run by Taliban soldiers, who are supposed to detect such attackers. He said he had no reason to believe that the Taliban, who are eager for the Americans to leave as quickly as possible, knowingly let the bomber through.

The chief Taliban spokesman, however, made a point of saying that the attack took place in an area where American forces controlled security.

The explosion hit at the airport gate, where U.S. troops screen people who are trying to get in. Gunfire followed, but it was not clear who was shooting. The general said American forces will work with the Taliban to keep crowds farther back from the airport gates, and to close some roads to thwart vehicle attacks.

“This is close-up war — the breath of the person you are searching is upon you,” General McKenzie said, adding, “I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the heroism” of the service members doing that perilous work.

“If we can find who’s associated with this, we will go after them,” he said.

Mr. Biden vowed, “we will respond with force and precision at our time” against the Islamic State leaders who ordered the attack. He added, “We have some reason to believe we know who they are.”

U.S. Marines at Abbey Gate had been working tirelessly for days, well aware that their time to help Afghans and U.S. citizens flee the country was running short as the Aug. 31 withdrawal date drew near. Ten of them were among the dead.

The State Department had identified about 6,000 Americans who were in Afghanistan on Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban began entering Kabul and the U.S.-backed president, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country. On Wednesday, the department said that figure was down to 1,500 and it was trying frantically to reach them all, telling them to get to the airport or sending helicopters to extract them.

But then the intelligence on an impending attack prompted the United States and NATO allies to tell people overnight not to approach the airport. Even so, by Thursday afternoon, the State Department said, about 500 more Americans had left the country, and hundreds more were awaiting evacuation, while some U.S. citizens had signaled that they do not intend to leave.

Early Friday morning, alarmed Kabul residents reported another series of explosions near the airport, setting off fears of another bombing attack. Taliban officials and Afghan journalists soon reported otherwise: It was the Americans, they said, destroying their own equipment as they prepared to leave Afghanistan.

Reporting was contributed by Jim Huylebroek, Victor Blue, Fahim Abed, Najim Rahim, Fatima Faizi, Helene Cooper, Michael Shear and Lara Jakes.

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