The Pentagon says “a number of U.S. service members” were killed in a “complex attack” outside the Kabul airport, where thousands of people have been gathering in an effort to leave the country after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
The area was hit with two explosions Thursday.
An intelligence source told VOA’s Carla Babb that at least four Americans were killed.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said “a number of others” are being treated for wounds.
A Taliban spokesman said the total death toll was at least 13 people, with 52 others wounded. He condemned the blasts.
Kirby said earlier 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.” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also said a second explosion occurred at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.
No one has taken responsibility for the blasts, but a U.S. official quoted by the Associated Press said the attack is believed to have been carried out by Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan.
Thousands of people have flocked to the Kabul airport in recent days, trying to leave the country following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Speaking about the first blast, a senior Taliban source confirmed to VOA that a suicide bomber blew 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 seeking evacuation from the country should move to a safe location.
President Joe 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 NGO that treats victims of war and landmines. Afghan news channels tweeted pictures of civilians transporting their wounded in wheelbarrows.
In Pictures: People injured in explosion near Kabul airport pic.twitter.com/WQ8sdjvODG
— 1TVNewsAF (@1TVNewsAF) August 26, 2021
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told BBC radio, “There is now a very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack.”
Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Department also cited an “ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack,” while Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said his government ended its evacuation operations after hearing from the United States and other sources about a possible attack.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated Wednesday that the United States sees 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,” Secretary of State Antony 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 are currently crammed in the airport in Kabul, according to U.S. officials who say a total of 90 U.S. military and international flights flew 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 for this report came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.