• Report says two suicide bombers behind attack
• IS claims responsibility
• Taliban condemn bombings
• Pakistan conveys sympathies to bereaved families
KABUL: Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport on Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover.
The attacks killed at least 60 Afghans and 12 US troops, Afghan and US officials said.
The US general overseeing the evacuation vowed the United States would go after the perpetrators of the bombings, and warned that more such attacks are expected.
“We are working very hard right now to determine attribution, to determine who is associated with this cowardly attack. And we’re prepared to take action against them,” Gen Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told Pentagon reporters in a briefing. “Twenty-four-seven. We are looking for them.”
Shortly after McKenzie spoke, the militant Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the killings on its Amaq news channel.
McKenzie said the attacks would not stop the United States from evacuating Americans and others, and flights out were continuing. He said there was a large amount of security at the airport, and alternate routes were being used to get evacuees in.
US officials said 11 Marines and one Navy medic were among the dead.
McKenzie said another 15 service members were wounded. Officials warned the toll could grow. More than 140 Afghans were wounded, an Afghan official said.
One of the bombers struck people standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water. Those who moments earlier had hoped to get on flights out could be seen carrying the wounded to ambulances in a daze, their own clothes darkened with blood.
The IS affiliate in Afghanistan is far more radical than the Taliban, who recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz and condemned the attack.
Western officials had warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport, but that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the US officially ends its 20-year presence on Aug 31.
Emergency, an Italian charity that operates hospitals in Afghanistan, said it had received at least 60 patients wounded in the airport attack, in addition to 10 who were dead when they arrived.
Surgeons will be working into the night, said Marco Puntin, the charity’s manager in Afghanistan. The wounded overflowed the triage zone into the physiotherapy area and more beds were being added, he said.
The Afghan official who confirmed the overall Afghan toll spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief media.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said one explosion was near an airport entrance and another was a short distance away by a hotel.
McKenzie said clearly some failure at the airport allowed a suicide bomber to get so close to the gate.
He said the Taliban had been screening people outside the gates, though there was no indication that the Taliban deliberately allowed Thursday’s attacks to happen. He said the US had asked the Taliban commanders to tighten security around the airport’s perimeter.
Adam Khan was waiting nearby when he saw the first explosion outside what’s known as the Abbey gate. He said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who were maimed.
The second blast was at or near Baron Hotel, where many people, including Afghans, Britons and Americans, were told to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation.
Additional explosions could be heard later, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said some blasts were carried out by the US forces to destroy their equipment.
A former Royal Marine who runs an animal shelter in Afghanistan said he and his staff were caught up in the aftermath of the blast near the airport.
“All of a sudden we heard gunshots and our vehicle was targeted; had our driver not turned around he would have been shot in the head by a man with an AK-47,” Paul Pen Farthing told Britain’s Press Association news agency.
Farthing is trying to get staff of his Nowzad charity out of Afghanistan, along with the group’s rescued animals. He is among thousands trying to flee.
In Washington, US President Joe Biden spent much of the morning in the secure White House Situation Room where he was briefed on the explosions and conferred with his national security team and commanders on the ground in Kabul.
Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from IS, which has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during its advance through Afghanistan.
Shortly before the attack, 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.
Late on 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 on Thursday not to go to the airport.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that any attack was imminent at the airport, where the group’s fighters have deployed and occasionally used heavy-handed tactics to control the crowds. After the attack, he appeared to shirk blame, noting the airport is controlled by US troops.
Before the blast, 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.
Pakistan strongly condemned the heinous terrorist attack in Kabul and conveyed sympathies to the affected families.
A statement issued by the Foreign Office in Islamabad said: “Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We convey our sympathies and condolences to the bereaved families and pray for the early recovery of those injured.”
Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2021