Eleven U.S. Marines and a Navy medic were among dozens killed after twin explosions tore through the crowd congregating at the Abbey Gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital and a hotel about 200 yards from the gate.
The death of U.S. service members marks the first combat fatalities in the region since February 2020. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby earlier confirmed "a number of U.S. service members were killed" but did not go into specifics.
Two U.S. officials confirmed the number of deaths to the Associated Press.
The first explosion, which U.S. officials said was perpetrated by a suicide bomber improvised explosive device, or "complex SBIED attack," was reported to be "large" in size. The U.S. Embassy sent out an alert regarding the blast at around 5:18 p.m. local time.
The explosion follows several Defense Department officials warning about an "imminent" threat at the airport, where evacuations have been underway for Afghan refugees and U.S. citizens following the Taliban's rapid takeover of Kabul on Aug. 15. The attack carried out at the Kabul airport is "definitely believed to be" carried out by the Islamic State group, U.S. officials told the Associated Press. The ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, known as ISIS-K, has clashed with the Taliban in the past. A source briefed on the situation near the airport said “hundreds of ISIS-K in the vicinity, attacks likely to continue," according to Fox News.
"We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can," Kirby said Thursday at 9:44 a.m. EDT (5:44 p.m. Kabul time).
Medical and hospital staff bring an injured man on a stretcher for treatment after two blasts, which killed at least five and wounded a dozen, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)
Kirby later confirmed at 10:57 a.m. EDT that a second explosion occurred outside the Baron Hotel near Abbey Gate. The hotel is the site where 169 U.S. citizens were rescued last week by three Army Chinook helicopters. The second explosion was likely from a car bomb, Fox News reported Thursday 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 & civilian casualties. 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," Kirby wrote.
"Initial reports suggest four or more U.S. service personnel may have been injured or killed in the explosion," according to Foreign Policy, citing the State Department Ops Center. Fox News earlier reported three U.S. Marines were injured.
At an emergency medical facility in Kabul, there were reportedly 60 wounded people who arrived following the explosion and at least six were dead on arrival, a Wall Street Journal correspondent reported. Images emerged online showing several Afghans bloodied and some being carried in wheelbarrows following the attack. A witness to the bombing said one Afghan infant died in the explosion, a National Journal reporter tweeted.
*Local media in Afghanistan:* 11 people have been killed and dozens more injured in the explosion outside of Kabul airport. #KabulAiport #Afghanistan #suicideattack #TalibanIslamistTerrorBack @USEmbassyKabul #alQaeda pic.twitter.com/alVEMiDUHU
— The Jewish Voice (@JewishVoice) August 26, 2021
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid released a statement condemning the bombing attacks on Thursday.
"The Islamic Emirate strongly condemns the bombing of civilians at Kabul airport, which took place in an area where security is in the hands of US forces," Mujahid said, according to a translation of the tweet. "The Islamic Emirate is paying close attention to the security and protection of its people, and evil circles will be strictly stopped."
— Barzan Sadiq (@BarzanSadiq) August 26, 2021
The White House and President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been briefed about the explosion, officials told the Washington Examiner.
The United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense said there have been no reports that its military or government personnel sustained casualties from the blasts, while French President Emmanuel Macron announced the country's ambassador to Afghanistan would be leaving the country, adding that the "coming hours will remain extremely dangerous in Kabul and at the airport."
The Taliban have reportedly stopped letting all Afghans through to the airport, adding that they are "mostly" letting U.S. citizens through, according to Fox News. U.S. citizens have been avoiding the airport since the blasts.
The military is also continuing to retrograde and depart the airport.
"Almost a certainty that Americans will be left behind," a source told the outlet. "They will have to be extracted after-the-fact through either Taliban negotiation or unconventional means.”
Last Friday, Biden said any attack "or disruption of our operations at the airport" would compel "a swift and forceful response."
Biden told reporters that his decision not to extend the withdrawal deadline was made in part because “the longer we stay” creates a “growing risk of an attack by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.”
It is not immediately clear how the two explosions will affect the U.S. military’s noncombatant evacuation operation, though Biden has previously held firm to his self-imposed Tuesday deadline. U.S. and coalition forces have worked to evacuate more than 100,000 people from the airport, which was the location of the bombings on Thursday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that 4,500 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan had been among those evacuees on Wednesday, adding there were approximately 1,500 remaining in the Taliban-controlled country. Biden and various administration officials have said all Americans who want to leave will be able to, but it’s unclear if the explosion will change the military’s mission.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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Original Author: Kaelan Deese, Mike Brest
Original Location: 12 US service members killed in twin explosions outside Kabul airport