Civilians, US troops among dozens killed in Kabul airport attack
Suicide bombers struck the crowded gates of Kabul airport with at least two explosions on Aug. 26, causing a bloodbath among civilians and U.S. troops and effectively shutting down the Western airlift of Afghans desperate to flee.
The count of U.S. troops believed to have been killed in Kabul blasts has increased to 12 as of Aug. 26 evening, according to U.S. officials citing initial information that can change.
There was no complete death toll of Afghan civilians but video images uploaded by Afghan journalists showed dozens of bodies of people killed in packed crowds outside the airport.
A watery ditch by the airport fence was filled with bloodsoaked corpses, some being fished out and laid in heaps on the canal side while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.
A source familiar with U.S. congressional briefings said U.S. officials strongly believe that the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), after an old name for the region, was responsible. ISIS-K is opposed by the United States and the Taliban.
A Taliban official said at least 13 people including children had been killed in the attack and 52 were wounded, though it was clear from video footage that those figures were far from complete. One surgical hospital run by an Italian charity said it alone was treating more than 60 wounded.
A surgical hospital run by an Italian charity said it was treating more than 60 wounded. The attacks came after the United States and allies urged Afghans to leave the area because of a threat by Islamic State militants.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said one blast occurred near the airport's Abbey Gate and the other close to the nearby Baron Hotel. Two U.S. officials said at least one of the explosions appeared to be from a suicide bombing.
"We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of U.S. civilian casualties," Kirby said earlier on Twitter.
"We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate."
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul described "a large explosion" and said there had been reports of gunfire.
U.S. officials said on Aug. 26 they were concerned that further attacks could occur at Kabul airport following earlier twin blasts by suspected suicide bombers.
A source who was in touch with a witness by text message quoted that witness as saying there appeared to have been two separate but simultaneous attacks, one by a suicide bomber near buses lined up outside Abbey Gate, where the blast was followed by small arms fire.
The second occurred at Baron Gate, named after the nearby Baron Hotel. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, quoted the witness as saying that children were among the casualties.
The attacks came after the United States and allies urged Afghans to leave the area because of a threat by Islamic State.
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told the BBC early on Aug. 26 there was ''very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack'' at the airport, possibly within "hours.''
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said his country had received information from the U.S. and other countries about the "threat of suicide attacks on the mass of people.''
A massive airlift of foreign nationals and their families, as well as some Afghans, has been under way since the day before Taliban forces captured Kabul on Aug. 15, capping a swift advance across the country as U.S. and allied troops withdrew.
President Joe Biden has been briefed on the explosion, according to a White House official. Biden was in a meeting with security officials about the situation in Afghanistan, where the United States is in the final steps of ending its 20-year war, when the explosion was first reported, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The United States has been racing to carry out the airlift before its military is set to fully withdraw from the country on Aug. 31.
In an alert issued on Aug. 25, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had advised citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately, citing unspecified "security threats."
A Western diplomat in Kabul said that areas outside the airport gates had been "incredibly crowded" again despite the warnings.
The United States and its allies have mounted one of the biggest air evacuations in history, bringing out about 95,700 people, including 13,400 on Wednesday, the White House said on Aug. 26.
Turkey's Defense Ministry said on Aug. 26 that there was no damage to Turkish units in the area after the explosions.
'Evacuation must remain priority'
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Aug. 26 allied forces should continue to evacuate as many vulnerable people as they can from Kabul despite what he branded a "horrific terrorist attack".
"Our priority remains to evacuate as many people to safety as quickly as possible," he tweeted after two deadly explosions hit crowds on the perimeter of the airport in Afghanistan's capital.
The president of the European Commission, Charles Michel, echoed Stoltenberg's call for evacuations to continue.
"Securing safe passage to the airport remains vital," he tweeted.
France in talks with Taliban over evacuations
France is in talks with the Taliban to allow hundreds of Afghans to be evacuated from Afghanistan, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Aug. 25.
Macron, on a visit to Ireland, said he could not guarantee that France would be successful in evacuating people as the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, especially at Kabul airport.
"We are facing an extremely tense situation," he told a joint news conference with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, calling for caution.
The foreign ministry said that so far, more than 2,500 French nationals and Afghans had reached French soil after being evacuated from Afghanistan before an Aug. 31 deadline for foreign forces to leave.
Macron said France's ambassador in Afghanistan would not remain in the country for security reasons and would operate from Paris, adding French special forces were at Kabul airport.
Deadly blasts at Kabul airport caused "total panic" among Afghans who had thronged outside in the hope of fleeing to safety, away from the country's new Taliban rulers.
Wounded men in blood-soaked clothes were ferried away from the scene in wheelbarrows, while a boy clutched the arm of a man with a head injury, in images posted on social media.
"Bodies, flesh and people were thrown into a canal nearby," Milad, who was at the scene of the first blast, told AFP.
"When people heard the explosion there was total panic. The Taliban then started firing in the air to disperse the crowd at the gate," a second witness said.
"I saw a man rushing with an injured baby in his hands."
In the confusion, he said he dropped the documents he hoped would help him board a flight with his wife and three children.
"I will never ever want to go [to the airport] again. Death to America, its evacuation and visas."
Shortly after the blasts, an AFP photographer saw several bodies arriving at a Kabul hospital, and more than a dozen injured.
Women with blood-stained faces and clothes wept as the wounded were taken into the clinic on stretchers.
Another witness, 26-year-old Akram Lubega, who works for a catering firm, said he heard the explosion and did not know what was happening.
"Of course we are all scared," the Ugandan national said.
"Everyone is tense and the army is taking positions around the airport."