ISIS Kabul airport attack kills more than 60 including 13 US troops

At least 60 civilians were killed in the explosions

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Thirteen US service members screening people for relocation from Kabul airport as well as dozens of civilians were killed on Thursday in an attack carried out by ISIS.

Central Command head Gen Frank McKenzie said at least 18 other soldiers were wounded in the attacks added that ISIS would try to carry out more attacks.

At least 60 Afghan deaths have been reported after the two explosions, with dozens of others injured, Kabul health officials and a former Afghan government official said.

One bomb was detonated near the Hamid Karzai International Airport's Abbey Gate and a second went off at the nearby Baron Hotel.

There were other explosions heard in Kabul early on Friday, which Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said were the sounds of US forces destroying their equipment as they leave the country.

Thursday’s American fatalities are the first time any US troops have been killed in combat in Afghanistan since February 2020, when two army sergeants died in an insider attack in Nangarhar province.

In a Thursday evening address from the White House, US President Joe Biden said he was "outraged as well as heartbroken" over the deaths.

“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay," Mr Biden said, later adding that he has ordered the US military to present strike plans against those behind the attacks.

"If we find who was behind this, we will go after them," Gen McKenzie told reporters.

The ISIS terrorist group has reportedly claimed responsibility for the Kabul airport explosion, and that its ISIS-K (Islamic State-Khorasan Province) affiliate committed the act.

Gen McKenzie and Mr Biden said the evacuation of the Kabul airport is continuing, and the general confirmed over 100,000 people had already been screened and relocated from the country.

"We will rescue the Americans. We will get our Afghan allies out. And our mission will go on," Mr Biden declared.

Graphic video shared on social media showed bodies lying semi-submerged in a canal adjacent to the airport, where thousands have gathered since the Taliban takeover of August 15 hoping for a flight out.

British-Afghan national Zia Ul Haq Hazarbuz was nearby at the time of the attack and described seeing the bodies in the sewage ditch.

“I saw maybe about five bodies in the water, so many others but it was possible to see five … there laying in the dirty water,” he told The National.

He described other bodies on the ground nearby the military posts.

Mr Hazarbuz lost his bags in the blasts and says he lost his UK naturalisation certificate. Luckily, he was still carrying his UK passport, bank cards and driving license with him. Without these, returning to London would likely have become much more difficult in the chaos and confusion of the evacuation.

"When people heard the [first] explosion there was total panic," a witness told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"The Taliban then started firing in the air to disperse the crowd. I saw a man rushing with an injured baby in his hands."

Condemnation poured in from international officials, the Taliban and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families at this difficult time," he wrote on Twitter.

The Taliban condemned the bombings and said that the presence of foreign soldiers in Afghanistan was the cause of such attacks.

Ahmedullah Rafiqzai, an Afghan civil aviation official working at the airport, said people continued to crowd around the gates on Thursday despite warnings of attacks.

“It's very easy for a suicide bomber to attack the corridors filled with people and warnings have been issued repeatedly,” he told Reuters.

“But people don't want to move; it's their determination to leave this country that they are not scared to even die. Everyone is risking their lives.”

Britain issued a notice to airlines to avoid flying below 7,620 metres over Afghanistan after the attack.

A German hospital plane is on standby to fly to Kabul and help remove people that were injured in the attack at the airport, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Thursday after Germany completed its airlift operations.

"We have offered the medevac for the transport of wounded people," she told journalists in Berlin, and added that the Airbus was en route from Kabul to the Uzbek capital Tashkent where it would remain on standby.

French President Emanuel Macron on a visit to Ireland said security at Kabul's airport was deteriorating amid the chaotic evacuations.

"We are facing an extremely tense situation," he said at a joint news conference with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin.

Mr Macron cast doubt on France's ability to successfully remove all its people from the country given the current situation at Kabul's airport.

"To all our Afghan friends: if you are near the airport gates, get away urgently and take cover. A second explosion is possible," tweeted French Ambassador to Afghanistan David Martinon said after the first blast.

Mr Biden cleared his schedule - delaying a long-planned meeting with the visiting Israeli prime minister - to deal with the fallout.

Countries around the world have been racing to bring citizens and Afghans who worked with them out of Afghanistan before the August 31 deadline for the complete withdrawal of US troops, who took over operations at the airport after Taliban militants seized control of the capital.

In an alert issued on Wednesday evening, the US embassy in Kabul advised citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately because of “security threats". Britain also told people in the airport area to “move away to a safe location". Several other nations also issued alerts.

ISIS in Afghanistan have been waging a war against international soldiers, the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.

The attacks came hours after soldiers managing the evacuations fired shots into the air to disperse crowds but officials said that reports that an Italian military C-130 transport plane carrying almost 100 Afghan nationals had come under fire were untrue.

A Nato diplomat at the airport and a Taliban official both told Reuters the main threat to the airport and evacuations came from ISIS, though no government warning specifically named the group.

Deteriorating security at Kabul airport

While western troops at the airport worked feverishly to assist those wanting to leave, Taliban fighters guarded the perimeter outside the airport, thronged by thousands of people trying to flee rather than stay in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

A Nato diplomat in Kabul said that although the Taliban were responsible for security outside the airport, threats from ISIS could not be ignored.

“Western forces under no circumstances want to be in a position to launch an offensive or a defensive attack against anyone,” the diplomat said.

“Our mandate is to ensure evacuations end on August 31.”

Another western official said flight operations had slowed on Wednesday but the pace of the evacuation would accelerate on Thursday.

One western official said an estimated 1,500 US passport and visa holders were trying to reach the airport.

Mr Biden has ordered all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the month to comply with a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, despite European allies saying they needed more time to bring people out.

In the 11 days since the Taliban swept into Kabul, the US and its allies have mounted one of the biggest air operations in history, bringing out more than 88,000 people, including 19,000 on Tuesday. The US military says planes are taking off every 39 minutes on average.

UN staff facing threats and looting

The US military said it would soon shift its focus to ensuring its troops leave safely in the days before the deadline.

The Taliban have encouraged Afghans to stay, while saying those with permission to leave will still be allowed to do so once commercial flights resume after the foreign troops are gone.

The UN is leaving 3,000 Afghan staff at its mission. A UN security document reviewed by Reuters described dozens of incidents of threats, the looting of UN offices and physical abuse of staff since August 10.

The Taliban's rule from 1996-2001 was marked by public executions and the curtailment of basic freedoms, with women virtually barred from public life.

The Taliban now say they will respect human rights and not allow terrorists to operate from the country.

But, with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US approaching, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told NBC News there was “no proof” that Al Qaeda's late leader Osama bin Laden was responsible.

US-backed forces ousted the Taliban from power weeks after those attacks after their leadership refused to cave in to US demands to make bin Laden leave his base in Afghanistan.

“There is no evidence even after 20 years of war … there was no justification for this war,” Mr Mujahid said

Updated: August 26th 2021, 11:12 PM
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