Islamic State suicide bombers kill dozens at Kabul airport

12 US troops were among the fatalities.

LAST UPDATE | Aug 26th 2021, 10:03 PM

ISLAMIC STATE SUICIDE bombers attacked crowds of people gathered outside Kabul airport hoping to flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, killing dozens including 12 US troops.

The country’s new Taliban rulers said the two blasts killed between 13 and 20 people. A health official in the previous government said the toll could rise to 60.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the airport attack, which added urgency and more heartbreak to the frantic race to get people out of Afghanistan.

Later, in the early hours of Friday Kabul time, a huge blast was heard in the Afghan capital. However Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said this was a controlled explosion by US troops destroying equipment at the airport, a statement that has yet to be independently confirmed.

Twelve US servicemen were killed and 15 wounded in the suicide bombing attacks, the head of US Central Command said.

“A number of Afghan civilians were also killed and injured in the attack,” said General Kenneth McKenzie.

Several others have been confirmed dead. However, the exact number of fatalities has not been confirmed.  

McKenzie also confirmed that the US airlift in Kabul will continue despite the Islamic State attacks.

“We continue to execute our number one mission, which is to get as many evacuees and citizens out of Afghanistan. ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing the mission,” he said.

The AFP news agency reported details of the casualties following what has been described as a “complex attack” at the airport, where thousands of people have gathered in recent weeks in an attempt to flee Afghanistan.

It followed warnings that a terror attack could be launched in the final phase of the evacuation effort from the country.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby gave details about the explosions in a number of tweets this afternoon.

“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,” he said.

“We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate. We will continue to update.”

The hotel, about 200 meters from the Abbey Gate, had been used by some western nations as a staging point for evacuations since the airlift began on 14 August.

Sky News reports that a suicide bomber detonated on the outskirts of the airport and the US State Department said there were also reports of gunfire.

The Taliban, a rival of the Islamic State, condemned the blasts, and said they happened in an area under US military control.

“The Islamic Emirate strongly condemns the bombing targeting civilians at Kabul airport,” said a statement released by Mujahid on Twitter.

Several countries had warned citizens of a possible attack on the airport where thousands of people have flocked in an attempt to leave the Taliban-controlled country.

US President Joe Biden had earlier cited an “acute” terrorist threat from the regional chapter of the Islamic State jihadist group.

The US government and its allies had raised the alarm with a series of advisories warning their citizens to avoid the airport.

‘Priority remains to evacuate’

Thousands of people have massed over the past 12 days near the Abbey Gate and other entrances to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, hoping to be evacuated.

US and allied officials said in the past day that they had intelligence that suicide bombers tied to the Afghan arm of the Islamic State group – the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) – were threatening to attack the airport ahead of Washington’s 31 August deadline to finalise the evacuation.

The group is known to be at odds with the Taliban. 

Irish Army Rangers and diplomats are expected to leave Kabul today amid warnings of a terror threat at the airport. 

Although many people have been evacuated, large crowds remained in the area as people tried to escape the country following the Taliban’s sweep to power earlier this month.

In a statement in the aftermath of the explosions, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that 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.

Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister Simon Coveney said this evening that the withdrawal of the Emergency Consular Assistance Team in Kabul, which had been attempting to evacuate Irish citizens, was now complete.

The Department of Defence said 36 Irish citizens and residents had been evacuated in total, but that around 60 Irish citizens and their families still required support, as well as 15 Afghan citizens with Irish residency.

“I know there are many in Ireland today with deep concerns for family members, friends and colleagues who remain in Afghanistan,” he said.

“Along with other countries, our team needed to evacuate due to the deteriorating security situation.

“I can give full assurance that the overall consular effort is continuing and we remain strongly committed to assisting those requiring ongoing consular support in Afghanistan.”

The Department of Defence also said that there was an ongoing consular operation in place to support Irish citizens, residents and their dependants in Afghanistan, but urged people against coming to or remaining at Kabul airport. 

London also issued a warning to its citizens, saying “if you can leave Afghanistan safely by other means, you should do so immediately”.

However, UK officials do not think at this stage there were any British casualties, military or civilian, in the incident.

Britain has said the operation to evacuate nationals will continue.

“We’ve been ready for it,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the attack. “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 that 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.

“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.

On a bilateral visit to Dublin, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would co-ordinate with “American allies” in response to the explosions outside Kabul airport.

“The coming hours will remain extremely dangerous in Kabul and around the airport,” he said.

He added that nobody expected “such a rapid and brutal situation” in Kabul and that the world’s leading countries were put in a position where they “cannot protect all the Afghan people we wanted to protect”.

Additional reporting by Orla Dwyer, Cónal Thomas, Garreth MacNamee and AFP.

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