Two explosions near the Kabul airport on Thursday killed U.S. military personnel and Afghans who were gathering there in an effort to flee the country.
At least 60 Afghans were killed and another 143 were wounded, according to an Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was quoted by The Associated Press.
U.S. General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said during a Pentagon news briefing that 12 U.S. troops — 11 Marines and one Navy medic — were killed and 15 others injured.
Later Thursday, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, its news agency reported on its Telegram channel.
President Joe Biden was scheduled to address the nation early Thursday evening.
McKenzie said a gunfight occurred after the bombings, but that evacuation flights were continuing.
“We continue to execute our number one mission, which is to get as many evacuees and citizens out of Afghanistan,” McKenzie said during the briefing. “ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing the mission,” he said, using an acronym for the militant group.
The attack outside the Kabul airport hit near where thousands of people have been gathering in an effort to leave the country after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Earlier Thursday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the first explosion Thursday at the Abbey Gate of the Kabul airport was “the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of U.S. and civilian injuries.”
Kirby said a second explosion occurred at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.
Speaking about the first blast, a senior Taliban source confirmed to VOA that a suicide bomber had blown himself up in an area where a large number of people, including women, were present.
The explosions came hours after Western governments had warned of the threat of a terror attack at the airport and said those gathered in the area who were seeking evacuation from the country should move to a safe location.
Biden met with his security team to discuss the recent events. “He will continue to be briefed on updates on the evolving situation throughout the day,” the White House said.
Following the blast, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said, “U.S. citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates. Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate or North Gate now should leave immediately.”
Several of those wounded Thursday arrived at Kabul’s Emergency Hospital, run by an international nongovernmental organization that treats victims of war and land mines. Afghan news channels tweeted pictures of civilians transporting their wounded in wheelbarrows.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated Wednesday that the United States had seen a potential threat from the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan.
“It’s hard to overstate the complexity and the danger of this effort,” Blinken said at the State Department. ”We’re operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban, with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack. We’re taking every precaution, but this is very high-risk.”
The United States is pledging to continue efforts to extricate Americans, U.S. permanent residents, allies and other vulnerable Afghans, even if it means going past the end-of-the-month deadline for American forces to leave Afghanistan.
There is ”no deadline in getting out Americans and Afghans who want to leave past August 31,” Blinken said.
“They will not be forgotten,” Blinken emphasized as he responded to reporters’ questions. ”And as I said, we will use every diplomatic, economic assistance tool at our disposal to pressure the Taliban to let people leave the country.”
The White House said Thursday that since August 14, the United States has evacuated or helped evacuate about 95,700 people on U.S. military and coalition flights.
Throughout Wednesday at the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House, officials continued to rebut criticism about chaos at the gates of Kabul’s airport.
“We’re on track to have the largest U.S. airlift in history. And I think that speaks for itself,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters.
As many as 1,500 American civilians remain in Afghanistan. There were about 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan on August 14, according to Blinken, when Taliban insurgents took military control of the country and evacuations began. But since then, he said, at least 4,500 Americans have been airlifted out of the country, including 500 in the past day.
About 10,000 people hoping to escape the country were crammed into the airport in Kabul, according to U.S. officials who said a total of 90 U.S. military and international flights had flown from Kabul in the past day.
It ”will not be an American responsibility” to control security at the airport after August 31, according to Pentagon spokesperson Kirby.
VOA’s Steve Herman, Ayaz Gul, Ayesha Tanzeem and Carla Babb contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.