Two blasts went off outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 26, confirmed Pentagon, the headquarters of United States Department of Defense.
The number of casualties were unclear by the time preliminary information was received, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.
The first explosion occurred near Abbey Gate of the airport, whereas, the second has been reported close to Baron Hotel, he said.
"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. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate," Kirby tweeted.
The Kabul airport has witnessed chaotic scenes since August 15, as thousands have been queuing up to leave since the takeover of Afghanistan by the insurgent group Taliban.
Video: Casualties from bombing attacks at the Kabul airport have been transferred to Emergency Hospital. Reuters quoted a Taliban official saying at least 13 people have been killed. The US Pentagon is reporting at least 2 blasts, one near Abbey Gate & the other near Baron Hotel. pic.twitter.com/vgs7pudEcA
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) August 26, 2021
An eye-witness who spoke to the Associated Press suggested that the fatality count could be higher. Adam Khan, an Afghan waiting outside the airport, said the explosion went off in a crowd of people waiting to enter the airport. Khan, who said he was standing about 30 metres away, said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who lost body parts.
The American intelligence, along with US President Joe Biden, had publicly warned about the "high risk" of a possible terrorist attack at the Kabul airport.
The attack could be perpetrated by ISIS-Khorasan, the militant group which is a rival of Taliban, Biden had said on August 24.
A similar warning was also issued by other western nations, which came amid the ongoing evacuation efforts which have intensified in view of the August 31 deadline set by Taliban for the total withdrawal of the US troops.
The overnight warnings about a possible attack by ISIS-K, which is an ideological affiliate of the extremist group which ruled over parts of Syria and Iraq between 2015 and 2018, also came amid reports which said that the cadre strength of ISIS-K has increased due to the freeing of prisoners by Taliban.
Also Read | What is the ISIS threat in Afghanistan?
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told the BBC early Thursday there was ”very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack” at the airport, possibly within “hours.” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said his country had received information from the US and other countries about the “threat of suicide attacks on the mass of people.”
The acting US ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was “clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling.” But in an interview with ABC News, he would not give details and did not say whether the threat remained.
Hours later, the blast was reported.
Wilson also said there remain “safe ways” for Americans to reach the airport, but “there undoubtedly will be” Afghans who had worked with or for the US in Afghanistan who will not be able to get out before the evacuation ends.
Late Wednesday, the US Embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport, with Australia’s foreign minister saying there was a “very high threat of a terrorist attack.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that any attack was imminent in the wake of those warnings.
Earlier Thursday, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at those gathered at one airport gate to try to drive the crowd away, as someone launched tear gas canisters elsewhere. While some fled, others just sat on the ground, covered their faces and waited in the noxious fumes.
Nadia Sadat, a 27-year-old Afghan, 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 was the State Department and were trying to get into the airport without any luck. Her husband had pressed ahead in the crowd to try to get them inside.
“We have to find a way to evacuate because our lives are in danger,” Sadat said. “My husband received several threatening messages from unknown sources. We have no chance except escaping.”
Gunshots later echoed in the area as Sadat waited. “There is anarchy because of immense crowds,” she said, blaming the US for the chaos.
Aman Karimi, 50, escorted his daughter and her family to the airport, fearful the Taliban would target her because of her husband’s work with NATO.
“The Taliban have already begun seeking those who have worked with NATO,” he said. “They are looking for them house-by-house at night.”
Many Afghans share those fears. The hard-line Islamic group wrested back control of the country nearly 20 years after being ousted in a US-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaida orchestrated while being sheltered by the group.
Senior US officials said Wednesday’s warning from the embassy was related to specific threats involving the Islamic State group and potential vehicle bombs. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing military operations.
The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan grew out of disaffected Taliban members who hold an even more extreme view of Islam. The Sunni extremists have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.
The Taliban have fought against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan. But IS fighters were likely freed from prisons along with other inmates during the Taliban’s rapid advance. Extremists may have seized heavy weapons and equipment abandoned by Afghan troops.
Amid the warnings and the pending American withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuations, and European nations halted or prepared to stop their own operations.
“The reality on the ground is the perimeter of the airport is closed. The Taliban have tightened the noose. It’s very, very difficult for anybody to get through at this point,” said Canadian General Wayne Eyre, the country’s acting Chief of Defense Staff.
Lt. Col. Georges Eiden, Luxembourg’s army representative in neighboring Pakistan, said that Friday would mark the official end for US allies. But two Biden administration officials denied that was the case.
A third official said that the US worked with its allies to coordinate each country’s departure, and some nations asked for more time and were granted it.
“Most depart later in the week,” he said, while adding that some were stopping operations Thursday. All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the information publicly.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex told RTL radio his country’s efforts would stop Friday evening. Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen bluntly warned: “It is no longer safe to fly in or out of Kabul.”
Denmark’s last flight has already departed, and Poland and Belgium have also announced the end of their evacuations. The Dutch government said it had been told by the US to leave Thursday.
But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said some planes would continue to fly.
“Evacuation operations in Kabul will not be wrapping up in 36 hours. We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission,” he said in a tweet.
The Taliban have said they’ll allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the deadline next week, but it remains unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants. Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said talks were underway between his country and the Taliban about allowing Turkish civilian experts to help run the facility.
The Taliban have promised to return Afghanistan to security and pledged they won’t seek revenge on those who opposed them or roll back progress on human rights. But many Afghans are skeptical.
An Afghan journalist from private broadcaster Tolo News described being beaten by Taliban. Ziar Yad said the fighters also beat his colleague and confiscated their cameras, technical equipment and a mobile phone as they tried to report on poverty in Kabul.
“The issue has been shared with Taliban leaders; however, the perpetrators have not yet been arrested, which is a serious threat to freedom of expression,” Yad wrote on Twitter.With AP inputs