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UK, NATO to continue Afghanistan airlift after deadly Kabul bombings

Boris Johnson condemns ‘barbaric’ attack, which is said to have killed over 60; military alliance’s chief says priority remains to evacuate as many people as quickly as possible

Members of Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in Kabul as part of a 600-strong UK force sent to assist with Operation PITTING to rescue British nationals in Afghanistan amidst the worsening security situation there, on August 15, 2021. (Leading Hand Ben Shread/Ministry of Defence via AP)
Members of Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in Kabul as part of a 600-strong UK force sent to assist with Operation PITTING to rescue British nationals in Afghanistan amidst the worsening security situation there, on August 15, 2021. (Leading Hand Ben Shread/Ministry of Defence via AP)

The United Kingdom and NATO announced they would continue to evacuate stranded citizens and Afghans from Kabul despite Thursday’s deadly bombings.

Britain will continue the operation despite the “barbaric” attacks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“We’ve been ready for it,” he said of the attacks. “We’re going to continue with that operation, we’re now coming towards the very end of it in any event.

“We’re going to work flat out… getting people through as fast as they can still, and we’re going to keep going up until the last moment,” said the prime minister, shortly after chairing a meeting of the emergency COBR committee.

He said members of the US military had “very sadly” lost their lives in the attacks, as well as “many Afghan casualties.”

The threat of a terrorist attack was “one of the constraints that we’ve been operating under” during the operation, he added.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing on coronavirus in Downing Street, London, on July 5, 2021. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool Photo via AP)

“But, clearly, what this attack shows is the importance of continuing that work in as fast and as efficient manner as possible in the hours that remain to us, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Around 15,000 Britons and Afghans who assisted the country during the war have been evacuated in the operation, said Johnson.

The Ministry of Defence later said on Twitter that “there have been no reported UK military or UK government casualties following the incidents in Kabul.

“UK forces are working closely with our partners to provide security and medical assistance,” it added.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday 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.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attends a NATO foreign ministers video conference following developments in Afghanistan, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on August 20, 2021. (Francisco Seco/ Pool/ AFP)

The attacks hit ahead of an August 31 deadline for US troops to leave the airport on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, and as allied militaries wind down their rescue operations.

Belgium and the Netherlands have already halted their airlift from the airport and other allied countries are to follow suit in the coming hours and days, despite fears that at-risk people will be left behind.

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.

At least two explosions struck near the main gate of the airport, causing multiple casualties in what the US military labeled a “complex attack” that took place as countries raced to complete evacuations from Afghanistan.

Smoke rises from an explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)

One explosion hit the Baron Hotel, about 200 meters from the Abbey Gate, which had been used by some Western nations as a staging point for evacuations since the airlift began on August 14.

At least 60 Afghan civilians were killed in Thursday’s bombings, with another 150 others wounded, the Wall Street Journal reported. Another 12 US service members were killed, including 11 Marines and one Navy medic, according to two US officials.

But the officials warned that the numbers may grow.

In the wake of the attacks, the British government issued a “Notice to Aviation,” advising airlines to avoid Afghan airspace under 7,600 meters (25,000 feet).

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