Two blasts near Kabul airport kill at least 13, including children

KABUL (AFP, REUTERS) – There were at least two explosions near Kabul’s airport amid a huge evacuation effort from Afghanistan, the Pentagon said on Thursday (Aug 26), with civilians and United States service members among the casualties.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said one blast occurred near the airport’s Abbey Gate and the other close to the nearby Baron Hotel. Two US officials said at least one of the explosions appeared to be from a suicide bombing.

“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,” Kirby said on Twitter. “We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.”

A Taleban official said at least 13 people were killed in the blast, including children, and many Taleban guards were wounded.

A United States official told Reuters as many as three US service members were among those hurt, and that US casualty numbers were expected to increase, according to initial information. At least one of the US personnel was seriously hurt, an official said.

Earlier reports say there was one “large explosion” and reports of gunfire.

The explosions came after the United States and allies urged Afghans to leave the area because of a threat by Islamic State.

A massive airlift of foreign nationals and their families as well as some Afghans has been under way since the day before Taleban forces captured Kabul on Aug 15, capping a swift advance across the country as US and allied troops withdrew.

Turkey’s Defence Ministry had said there were two separate explosions outside the airport, adding there was no damage to Turkish units in the area.

Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary tweeted that “a suicide attacker blew himself up in the middle of a large crowd” that was “packed with Afghans, including women and children”.  

US and allied officials have said they had intelligence that suicide bombers tied to the Afghan arm of the Islamic State group – the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) –were threatening to attack the airport.

The explosion outside of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport came hours after the US and British governments warned their citizens to avoid travelling to the airport in Kabul because of the risk of attacks.

Early on Thursday, Western nations had warned their citizens to immediately leave the surrounds of the airport over a terrorist threat, as thousands of people tried to reach a dwindling number of evacuation flights.

“Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” said the US State Department.

Injured people arrive at a hospital in Kabul on Aug 26, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Britain’s armed forces minister James Heappey had said on Thursday a terrorist threat against the airport was “imminent”.

“Reporting over the week has become ever more credible. And it is of an imminent and severe threat to life,” he said.

Most member nations of the US-led coalition said on Thursday they had wound up or would soon end their own evacuation flights from Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The total number of people who have been taken out of the US-controlled hub since the international airlift began on Aug 14 hit 95,700 on Thursday, including both Afghans and foreign nationals.

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the United States would stick to its deadline of withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan by Aug 31, to end the two-decade US-led war there.

A spokesman for the Taleban, which seized Kabul on August 15 to cap a lightning campaign against government forces, said on Tuesday the evacuation operation had to end on Aug 31.

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