Dozens of people were reportedly killed, including children and 12 US Marines, as explosions hit Thursday just outside the Kabul airport, where thousands of people were gathered to try to flee Afghanistan on Western airlifts since the Taliban seized power earlier this month.
Officials described the incident as deadly suicide bombings allegedly carried out by the Islamic State terror group.
An Afghan official said at least 60 Afghans were killed and another 143 were wounded in the attacks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the twin suicide attacks killed at least 13 people and wounded another 15. Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: “Our initial information shows between 13 and 20 killed and 52 wounded.”
A New York Times reporter said there were 40 dead and 120 wounded, while the Wall Street Journal reported that at least 60 Afghan civilians had been killed and 150 injured, although no confirmed tallies were immediately available.
At least 12 US service members were killed in the Afghanistan bombings, including 11 Marines and one Navy medic, according to two US officials. Officials said a number of US military troops were wounded. They warned, however, that the numbers may grow.
The Pentagon officially did not give an exact number, and said in a statement that several US troops were killed and more were wounded in the “heinous attack.”
A Taliban official told Reuters that children were among those killed, and numerous Taliban guards were among the injured.
A US official said on condition of anonymity that the attack was “definitely believed” to have been carried out by the Islamic State. The terror group, which is more radical than the Taliban and has carried out a wave of attacks targeting civilians, had yet to officially claim responsibility.
The US official said the attack involved two suicide bombers and gunmen.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said an explosion occurred at the airport’s Abbey Gate and there was “at least one other” blast at the nearby Baron Hotel.
“We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties,” Kirby said in a tweet.
The Taliban said in a statement that it “strongly condemns the bombing targeting civilians at Kabul airport,” alleging that “the explosion took place in an area where US forces are responsible for security.”
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg condemned the bombings as a “horrific terrorist attack,” adding: “My thoughts are with all those affected and their loved ones. Our priority remains to evacuate as many people to safety as quickly as possible.”
— Barzan Sadiq (@BarzanSadiq) August 26, 2021
US President Joe Biden “has been briefed and he is in the Situation Room,” a White House official told AFP.
The incident came shortly before Biden was set to meet Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The meeting was delayed until Friday in the aftermath of the attack, the White House said.
Western nations had warned of a possible attack on Kabul’s airport in the waning days of the massive evacuation efforts.
Several countries urged people to avoid the airport, where an official said there was a threat of a suicide bombing. But just days — or even hours for some nations — before the evacuation effort is to end, few appeared to heed the call.
Over the last week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most searing images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the Taliban’s takeover, as flight after flight took off carrying those who fear a return to the militants’ brutal rule.
Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and begun to withdraw their soldiers and diplomats, signaling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. The Taliban have so far honored a pledge not to attack Western forces during the evacuation, but insist the foreign troops must be out by America’s self-imposed deadline of August 31.
Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from Afghanistan’s Islamic State group affiliate, which likely has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during their blitz across the country.
???? | NEW: People being taken to hospital after the Kabul explosion
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British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told the BBC early Thursday 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 US and other countries about the “threat of suicide attacks on the mass of people.”
Acting US Ambassador to Kabul Ross Wilson said the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was “clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling.” But in an interview with ABC News, he would not give details and did not say whether the threat remained.
Shortly after, the blasts were reported.
Wilson also said there remain “safe ways” for Americans to reach the airport, but “there undoubtedly will be” Afghans who had worked with or for the US in Afghanistan who will not be able to get out before the evacuation ends.
Late Wednesday, the US embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens on Thursday not to go to the airport, with Australia’s foreign minister saying there was a “very high threat of a terrorist attack.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid earlier denied that any attack was imminent.
Earlier Thursday, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at those gathered at one airport gate to try to drive the crowd away, as someone launched tear gas canisters elsewhere. While some fled, others just sat on the ground, covered their faces and waited in the noxious fumes.
The hardline Islamic group wrested back control of the country nearly 20 years after being ousted in a US-led invasion following the September 11 attacks, which al-Qaeda orchestrated while being sheltered by the group.