Civilians and foreign troops were scrambling to evacuate Taliban-controlled Afghanistan when two deadly blasts hit the Kabul international airport ahead of the US withdrawal deadline of August 31.
Over 100 people including, thirteen US service members have been killed in two bombing attacks outside Kabul’s airport, according to the Pentagon and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health.
The bombings came hours after Western governments had warned their citizens to stay away from the airport, because of an imminent threat of an attack by IS, the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State group.
There were two explosions outside the perimeter of the Kabul airport. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said one blast occurred near the airport’s entrance of Abbey Gate.
One of the bombers struck Afghans standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water.
The second blast was at or near Baron Hotel, where many people, including Afghans, Britons and Americans, were told to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation.
Many of the victims of the attack were rushed to Kabul’s Emergency Hospital. US and British troops had recently been deployed to guard the area around the Abbey Gate.
According to one account, one attacker fired into a crowd of people, although reports also said Taliban guards had fired into the air.
Who has claimed responsibility?
Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), an affiliate of militants who previously battled US forces in Syria and Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack. ISIS-K is opposed by the Taliban, who have condemned the bombing.
ISKP members have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.
Taliban official Abdul Qahar Balkhi said: “We condemn this attack, although I don’t have the complete details. But targeting innocent civilians is an act of terrorism that has to be condemned by the entire world.”
Does the attack come as a surprise?
Overnight on Wednesday, warnings emerged from Western governments about a threat from ISIL, which has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during its advance through Afghanistan.
The US embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, the UK and New Zealand also advised their citizens not to go to the airport.
Western officials warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport, but that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the US officially ends its 20-year presence on August 31.
What’s happening with the US evacuation?
US President Joe Biden vowed to complete the evacuation of American citizens and others from Afghanistan despite the deadly suicide bomb attack. He promised to avenge the deaths of 13 US service members killed in the attack, saying, “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
On the other hand, Australia’s evacuation mission has ended, Defence Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed. Australia was among other foreign militaries to get out before the blasts.
“I’m very pleased and relieved that our soldiers have departed from Kabul,” Mr Dutton told Channel Nine.”We took the decision to lift the last of our people yesterday and they are safely in the United Arab Emirates,” he added.