Two bombings were reported on Thursday (8/26) at Kabul airport, which has become the most visible site in the drama of Afghans and foreigners trying to flee the country after the Taliban’s return to power. At least 60 people died — 12 of them were US military, according to the Pentagon — and another 140 were injured, a senior health official told the BBC.
The explosions took place in the vicinity of the so-called Abbey Gate, a space that was occupied by British and American troops and which now houses people trying to board flights out of the country, and in a hotel nearby.
At a Pentagon press conference, US General Kenneth McKenzie said the two suicide bombers were “ISIS fighters.” “The attack on Abbey Gate was followed by several armed men who opened fire on civilians and military forces,” he said.
Asked how the airport bombers managed to approach US forces, McKenzie said there was “clearly a failure” by Taleban forces at the checkpoints for people arriving from outside the airport. He said the United States will “try to improve all the measures taken as we go forward.”
‘A girl died in my hands’
There are some harrowing accounts of what happened at the airport. “Bodies were dumped into a nearby channel,” Milad, who was at the site of the first explosion, told AFP news agency.
“When people heard the explosion, there was total panic. The Taliban then started shooting into the air to disperse the crowd at the gate,” said a second witness. “I saw a man running with an injured baby in his hands.”
In the confusion, the witness — who was not identified — said he had dropped the documents he hoped to use to board with his wife and three children. “I never want to go (to the airport) again,” the witness told AFP.
An Afghan interpreter who worked with US forces in the bombings described to CBS how he tried to help a girl who ended up dying in his arms.
“Many people were injured and others who were lying on the ground,” he said. “I saw a girl there and I went to her, picked her up and started taking her to the hospital, but she died at my hands,” he said, estimating her age at around five.
“This is heartbreaking. What’s happening now is heartbreaking, this entire country has disintegrated.”
“I tried,” continued the interpreter. “I did my best to help her.”
Taliban condemned attacks
Intelligence data already indicated the possibility of suicide attacks by extremists at the airport, due to the visibility of the place, while countries are trying to evacuate as many people as possible by August 31, the deadline for the total withdrawal of the United States from the country. Asian.
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told the BBC that the threat to the scene was “serious” and could be “imminent”. As a result, the United States, Australia and other countries had warned their citizens not to crowd the airport.
There was a large crowd at the scene, despite warnings of imminent attack, which were ignored by many Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban.
Analysts believe a possible perpetrator of the attacks is the so-called Isis-K, a branch of the self-styled Islamic State (EI) group that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan — and a rival to the Taliban. It is considered the most extreme and violent of all jihadist militant groups in Afghanistan. It was created in January 2015 at the height of IS power in Iraq and Syria, before its self-declared caliphate was defeated and dismantled by a US-led coalition . The group recruits both Afghans and Pakistanis, especially defecting members of the Afghan Taliban who don’t consider their own organization radical enough.
A Taleban spokesman, meanwhile, condemned the blasts and said they “occurred in an area where US troops were responsible for security.” Suhail Shaheen, another Taliban spokesman, said the group is “paying a lot of attention to the safety and protection of its people” in another tweeted statement.
The secretary general of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, also condemned the “terrorist attack that killed and injured several civilians” in Kabul.
“This incident underscores the volatility of the situation in Afghanistan, but it also strengthens our resolve as we continue to provide urgent assistance across the country in support of the Afghan people,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, adding that “from what we know in this moment” there were no casualties among UN officials.
attacks must continue
The scale of tension in the country is likely to continue because this is unlikely to be the last attack, says Mike Jason, a former US military commander who served in Afghanistan.
“Targets (like the airport) are very lucrative and symbolic” for radical militants who want to make it difficult for people to evacuate, Jason said.
“They (militants) have the resources, they have the reach and they have the targets — the multitudes of helpless people who are desperate (to leave the country).”
“ISIS’s threat is real, and we expect these attacks to continue,” General McKenzie said.
Indeed, as confirmed by BBC News reporter in Kabul, Secunder Kermani, the airport has been drawing crowds despite early warnings of the danger of an attack.
“People are in such a state of despair that they won’t pay attention to this kind of information (about the risk of attacks). They’re hearing all kinds of rumors and they just want to leave the country. Many camped for days in extreme conditions. (in the airport).”
The explosions that rocked the airport in Kabul came on the same day that several countries announced that they were halting evacuations due to the deteriorating security situation.
However, the United States, United Kingdom and France have already announced that they will continue with their operations to remove their citizens from the country.
At the same time, many people are trying to escape from Afghanistan across the Pakistani border.
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