KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul airport on Thursday, turning a scene of despair into a scene of horror at the end of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover. The attacks killed at least 60 Afghans and 12 US soldiers, Afghan and US officials said.
The US general overseeing the evacuation vowed that the United States would “go after” the perpetrators of the bombings and warned that more such attacks were expected. US President Joe Biden then echoed those sentiments in a nationwide address in which he addressed those responsible for the attack directly.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We’re going to hunt you down and make you pay, ”Biden said.
General Frank McKenzie, head of the United States Central Command, said the attacks would not prevent the United States from evacuating the Americans and others, and the flights were continuing. He said there was a great deal of security at the airport and that alternative routes were being used to bring in evacuees. In addition to the many Afghans, the State Department has estimated that there are as many as 1,000 Americans in Afghanistan who may need help getting out. .
Shortly after McKenzie intervened, ISIS claimed responsibility for the killings on its Amaq news channel.
U.S. officials said 11 Marines and a Navy medic were among those who died. McKenzie said 15 other soldiers were injured. Officials have warned the toll could rise. More than 140 Afghans have been injured, an Afghan official said.
One of the suicide bombers struck people standing up to their knees in a sewage canal under the scorching sun, throwing bodies into the foul water. Those who, moments earlier, had hoped to catch the plane could be seen transporting the injured to ambulances in a daze, their own clothes dark with blood.
ISIS’s affiliate in Afghanistan is far more radical than the Taliban, which recently took control of the country in a blitz and condemned the attack.
Western officials had warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport, but this advice has gone largely ignored by Afghans desperate to flee the country in the final days of a state-led evacuation. United before the United States officially ended its 20-year presence. August 31.
Emergency, an Italian charity that runs hospitals in Afghanistan, said it received at least 60 patients injured in the airport attack, in addition to 10 who died on arrival.
“The surgeons will work until the end of the night,” said Marco Puntin, director of the charity in Afghanistan. The injured overflowed from the triage area into the physiotherapy area and more beds were added, he said.
The Afghan official who confirmed the Afghan toll spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to brief the media.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said an explosion occurred near an airport entrance and another a short distance from a hotel. McKenzie made it clear that a failure at the airport allowed a suicide bomber to approach so close to the gate.
He said the Taliban had checked people outside the gates, although there is no indication that the Taliban deliberately allowed Thursday’s attacks to occur. He said the United States had asked Taliban commanders to strengthen security around the perimeter of the airport.
Adam Khan was waiting nearby when he saw the first explosion outside what is known as the Abbey Gate. He said several people appeared to have been killed or injured, some of them maimed.
The second explosion took place at or near the Baron Hotel, where scores of people including Afghans, British and Americans have been invited to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation. More explosions could be heard later, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said some explosions were carried out by US forces to destroy their equipment.
A former Royal Marine who runs an animal shelter in Afghanistan said he and his staff were trapped in the blast near the airport.
“All of a sudden we heard gunshots and our vehicle was targeted. If our driver had not turned around, he would have been shot in the head by a man with an AK-47, ”Paul“ Pen ”Farthing told the British news agency Press Association.
Farthing tries to get the staff of his charity Nowzad out of Afghanistan, as well as the rescued animals of the group.
He is one of the thousands who are trying to flee. Over the past week, the airport has witnessed some of the most striking images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the Taliban takeover, as flight after flight has taken flight. flew by carrying those who fear a brutal return to power of the militants. When the Taliban was last in power, they confined women largely to their homes and largely imposed draconian restrictions.
Already, some countries have halted their evacuations and started withdrawing their troops and diplomats, marking the beginning of the end of one of the largest airlifts in history. The Taliban have insisted that foreign troops must be out before the self-imposed US deadline of August 31 – and the evacuations must end at that time as well.
In Washington, Biden spent much of the morning in the White House’s secure situation room where he was briefed on the blasts and spoke to his national security team and field commanders in Kabul.
Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals of a threat from ISIS, which saw its ranks swell with the release of prisoners by the Taliban as it advanced through Afghanistan.
Shortly before the attack, Acting US Ambassador to Kabul Ross Wilson said the overnight security threat at Kabul airport was “clearly seen as credible, imminent and compelling.” But in an interview with ABC News, he did not give details.
On Wednesday evening, the United States Embassy warned citizens three doors of the airport 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.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that an attack was imminent at the airport, where the group’s fighters were deployed and sometimes used brutal tactics to control the crowd. After the attack, he appeared to dodge blame, noting that the airport is controlled by US troops.
Before the explosion, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at people gathered at an airport gate in an attempt to drive off the crowds, as someone threw tear gas canisters elsewhere.
Nadia Sadat, a 27-year-old Afghan woman, carried her 2-year-old daughter with her outside the airport. She and her husband, who had worked with coalition forces, missed a call from a number they believed to be the State Department and were trying to enter the airport unsuccessfully. Her husband had rushed into the crowd to try to get them in.
“We have to find a way out because our lives are in danger,” Sadat said. “My husband has received several threatening messages from unknown sources. We have no other chance but to escape.
Aman Karimi, 50, escorted her daughter and her family to the airport, fearing the Taliban would target her because of her husband’s work with NATO.
“The Taliban have already started looking for those who have worked with NATO,” he said. “They look for them house by house at night. “
IS Sunni extremists, linked to the group’s best-known affiliate in Syria and Iraq, have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim minority, including a 2020 attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.
The Taliban have fought Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regained control almost 20 years after they were ousted in a US-led invasion. The Americans entered following the September 11 attacks, orchestrated by al-Qaida while it was sheltered by the group.
Amid the warnings and the impending U.S. withdrawal, Canada halted its evacuations and European countries halted or prepared to shut down their own operations.
The Taliban have said they will allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the deadline next week, but it is still unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants. Turkish presidency spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said talks were underway between his country and the Taliban to allow Turkish civilian experts to help manage the facility.
Faiez reported from Istanbul, Baldor reported from Washington, and Krauss from Jerusalem. Associated Press editors Jill Lawless in London; Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Sylvie Corbet in Paris; Jan M. Olsen from Copenhagen, Denmark; Rahim Faiez, Tameem Akhgar and Andrew Wilks in Istanbul; James LaPorta in Boca Raton, Florida; Mike Corder in The Hague, The Netherlands; Philip Crowther in Islamabad; Colleen Barry in Milan; and Aamer Madhani, Matthew Lee and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.