At least 13 people, including several children, were killed Thursday in an attack outside the Kabul airport, according to a Taliban spokesman. The attack is suspected to have been the work of a suicide bomber. Among the many wounded (at least 60, according to the first information) are United States soldiers and Taliban militiamen who were guarding the perimeter of the airfield. Washington and its allies had been warning for several days of the risk of an attack by the Islamic State terrorist group and asking people not to go to the scene.
The Pentagon has confirmed that there were at least two explosions, the first at one of the three entrances to the Kabul airport and another at the facilities or near a hotel located a short distance from the airfield. The attack has caused casualties among civilians and the US military in charge of the evacuation, the Pentagon explained, without providing an even approximate balance.
“We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey gate was the result of a combined attack that resulted in an (undetermined) number of American and civilian casualties,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby reported on Twitter. “We can also confirm at least one other explosion in or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from the Abbey gate.” Two Administration sources indicated the presence of at least three US military personnel among the wounded, one of them in a very serious condition.
The White House has not ruled on a hypothetical modification of the evacuation deadline, which ends next Tuesday, as a result of the double attack. President Joe Biden was informed of the attack while holding his daily meeting with members of the national security team. The news has forced the postponement of the important meeting that the president was going to hold at noon, local time (six hours more in mainland Spain) with the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has “strongly” condemned the airport bombing. “It happened in an area where US forces are responsible for security,” he says in the brief statement posted on his Twitter account.
After the news was known, the Shamshad News chain showed on its social networks images in which several people are seen pushing wheelbarrows with the injured to take them to the nearest hospital. Several of them have bloody clothes, including a man in a military uniform.
The US Embassy in Kabul had asked its citizens on Wednesday to avoid going to the airport, as well as those concentrated in the compound to leave its facilities in anticipation of a possible attack in front of one of the three entrances. A Western diplomat at the scene confirmed to Reuters that the airfield entrances were still collapsed by a crowd even after the alert was known. After the attack, the US Embassy in the Afghan capital has reiterated the call to all its citizens to leave the airport as soon as possible. “There has been a big explosion and there is information about an exchange of shots,” he explained.
Shortly before the double attack, the Pentagon spokesman had denied information that anticipated the imminent end of evacuation operations by the United States as a result of the terrorist threat. Several European countries – Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands and Belgium – have terminated the repatriation, while others such as France and Spain plan to conclude this Friday. But the large number of US citizens still in Afghanistan does not allow for an advance. “We will continue to evacuate as many people as possible until the end of the mission,” on August 31, Kirby tweeted.
Since the entry of the Taliban into Kabul on the 15th, tens of thousands of Afghans have gathered around the airport in the hope of sneaking onto one of the flights that the United States and its allies have organized to evacuate their nationals and their local partners. The crowds have made the task difficult and caused stampedes while the shootings have caused a score of deaths amid mounting tension.
The president of the United States, Joe Biden, justified last Tuesday not to extend the evacuation period beyond August 31 due to the “growing threat of attack by ISIS”. These are the acronyms used in English for the terrorist group Islamic State, but in Afghanistan a local branch of that formation that emerged on the border between Iraq and Syria and calls itself the Islamic State in the Province of Khorasan (IS-J or ISIS) operates. -K in English). Khorasan is what the Indian subcontinent is called.
The US, UK and Australia had since asked their citizens and the Afghans they plan to evacuate to avoid the airport and wait in safe areas. The US secret services had detected indications that the group, responsible for some of the most brutal attacks that Afghanistan has suffered in recent years, planned to take the opportunity to score a double goal: attack both the Americans and the Taliban, with which rivals.