At least 13 U.S. service members 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 toll, including 11 U.S. Marines and a Navy medic, and an additional 15 service members were wounded on Thursday, were reported by Commander, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie during a Pentagon press briefing Thursday afternoon.
A Central Command spokesperson said Thursday evening an additional service member died since McKenzie’s remarks. The toll of injured service members was also upped to 18 from 15, said the spokesperson, who added that those injured are “in the process of being aeromedically evacuated from Afghanistan on specially equipped C-17s with embarked surgical units.”
The deaths of U.S. service members mark the first combat fatalities in the region since February 2020 and marks the deadliest incident in Afghanistan since Aug. 6, 2011, when 30 U.S. service members, including 22 Navy SEALs, were killed along with seven Afghan special forces members and an Afghan civilian interpreter when their helicopter was gunned down in Wardak province.
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.
“We put more than 5,000 American service members at risk to save as many civilians as we can. It’s a noble mission, and today we have seen firsthand how dangerous the mission is,” McKenzie said. “ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing our mission.”
McKenzie said the circumstances surrounding the two attacks are still under investigation.
“The attack occurred at a gate and the gate was checking people before they get onto the airfield. We hope to ensure they are not carrying a bomb or any kind of weapon that could ultimately make its way onto an aircraft.”
McKenzie underscored the U.S. has not determined whether ISIS-K carried out the attacks, suggesting the military will retaliate after determining “who is associated” with the bombings.
McKenzie estimated there are just over 1,000 Americans still in Afghanistan, adding the mission remains to evacuate them as soon as possible.
Shortly before the afternoon press conference, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a statement extending his condolences to the soldiers who died on Thursday.
“Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others,” Austin said.
The explosion follows several Defense Department warnings 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 say.
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).
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.
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 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 said 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.
Author: Kaelan Deese
Source: Washington Examiner: 13 US service members killed in twin explosions outside Kabul airport