Dozens of people have been killed after two explosions outside Kabul airport as the withdrawal of western forces from Afghanistan after two decades ended in bloodshed.
Isis-K, the affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Afghanistan, took responsibility for the suicide terror attack, which followed warnings a strike would be launched in the final phase of the evacuation effort.
The Pentagon confirmed two blasts occurred outside Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday.
One explosion took place at or near the Baron Hotel, where the UK has been processing Britons and Afghans eligible for evacuation after the Taliban seized control of the nation.
A short distance away, another blast occurred near the Abbey Gate of Kabul’s airport.
The suicide bomb attack killed scores of civilians and 12 US troops, and threw into mayhem the airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee.
The US death toll made it the deadliest single incident for American forces in Afghanistan in a decade and one of the deadliest of the entire 20-year war.
Joe Biden has promised to “hunt down” the terrorists responsible for the terrorist attack.
In an address to the American people, the US president told those behind the suicide bombings: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson said the UK’s evacuation effort in Afghanistan will continue despite the “barbaric” terrorist attack. The US also said air lifts would continue.
The Ministry of Defence said there had been no UK military or government casualties reported.
Here’s what we know so far:
Islamic State struck the crowded gates of Kabul airport in a suicide bomb attack on Thursday, killing scores of civilians and 12 US troops.
Afghan health officials were quoted as saying 60 civilians died, but the count could be higher.Advertisement
The exact number of those killed and injured was unclear as witnesses spoke of many more bodies.
A witness told AP news agency that several people appear to have died and others have lost limbs.
All US diplomatic personnel were safely accounted for, but three were injured. No UK or French nationals were among the injured.
An emergency hospital in Kabul said 30 people arrived with injuries after the explosion. Six were dead on arrival.
What happened and where
Suicide bombers reportedly detonated explosives in the sewage canals outside the airport among crowds of people.
Two explosions went off near Baron Hotel outside the airport – the place where UK troops have been processing evacuees.
Mohammad Tawfiq, a resident of the Yaka Toot area adjacent to military section of the airport, told Reuters that a canal near the airport was filled with the bodies of the dead and wounded.
A witness who gave his name as Jamshed said: “There was a very strong and powerful suicide attack, in the middle of the people. Many were killed, including Americans, many were killed and many injured.”
The BBC’s Nasfiseh Kohnvard tweeted: “Those inside Kabul airport were warned of a possible rocket attack. Soldiers ask people to take cover, a source inside the airport tells me.”
There were breaking reports of ongoing gunfire after the explosion at the airport.
Islamic State, which has emerged in Afghanistan as enemies both of the West and the Taliban, claimed responsibility in a statement in which it said one of its suicide bombers targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army”.
US officials also blamed the group.
The Taliban did not identify the attackers, but a spokesman described them as “evil circles” who would be suppressed once the foreign troops leave.
PM Johnson said the programme to evacuate people from Afghanistan will continue despite the terrorist attack at Kabul airport.Advertisement
The prime minister said on Thursday: “The conclusion is that we’re able to continue with the programme in the way that we’ve been running it, according to the timetable we’ve got.
“That’s what we’re going to do because the overwhelming majority of those who are eligible have now been extracted from Afghanistan.
“We’re going to work flat out, the military, the Foreign Office teams, the Home Office, the Border Force teams that are there getting people through as fast as they can still.
“We’re going to keep going up until the last moment, but I want to repeat what I’ve been saying over the last few days: we also fully expect that those who want to leave Afghanistan after this phase one, if you like, are allowed to do that by the Taliban.
“We will use all the influence that we can bring to bear with the political or economic, diplomatic, as we said at the G7, to encourage the new authorities in Afghanistan to do that.”
US president Joe Biden was briefed on the explosion by an official.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Twitter: “We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US and civilian casualties. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.”
Taliban official Suhail Shaheen said: “We strongly condemn this gruesome incident and will take every step to bring the culprits to justice.”
Afghans had been crowding around the airport since the Taliban took control of the country, in a desperate bid to leave Afghanistan.
The explosion followed warnings from the western officials that an attack could be imminent.
Countries – including the US and UK – warned people not to go to the airport in case there was a suicide bombing.
The biggest threat was thought to be from Isis-K, a branch of the Islamic State which is known for its suicide bombing attacks.
The Taliban and Isis are enemies.
Isis are known to be furious at the way the Taliban negotiated with the US to get into power, and were expected to attack before the withdrawal of western troops to undermine both the Taliban leaders in power – who promised a safe evacuation process to the west – and Nato.