Multiple U.S. troops were killed and others wounded when two explosions shook the area outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in rapid succession Thursday, where the U.S. and NATO allies had been evacuating thousands of people from the city, the Pentagon confirmed.
“We can confirm that a number of U.S. service members were killed in today’s complex attack at Kabul airport. A number are being treated for wounds,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement, adding that “a number of Afghans” were also killed in the attack.
Explosions outside the airport in Kabul Thursday killed 12 U.S. service members and dozens of civilians, said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement from the Pentagon.
The attack that followed repeated threat warnings from the United States and its allies.
“We can confirm that a number of U.S. service members were killed in today’s complex attack at Kabul airport,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “A number of others are being treated for wounds.”
U.S. officials believe the attack outside Kabul international airport was carried out by an affiliate of the Islamic State known as ISIS-K due to communications that were made by the group around the time of the attack, a U.S. official familiar with the matter told Public Opinions. A second U.S. official said the ISIS-K is the leading suspect in the attack.
According to Kirby, the first blast took place right outside the airport’s Abbey gate and the second at the nearby Baron Hotel. Scattered gunshots were heard after the blasts.
Large crowds of Afghans have been gathering daily at the airport in hopes of fleeing the country following the Taliban takeover.
“This attack is a nightmare,” said Stacia George, director of the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program, who has worked to get vulnerable people out of Afghanistan. “It took incredible courage and strength to get to those gates which are the door to the last reliable way to safety. Although this is happening, people will still keep trying to go back once or if the gates open again because what other choice do they have?”
Before the Taliban takeover, Afghan security forces had long formed a so-called ring of steel around the capital city, with multiple checkpoints operating along main roads and a U.S.-led intelligence system tracking extremists. There have been a series of spectacular Taliban and ISIS attacks in Kabul over the years, but that old system has evaporated since the city’s fall to the Taliban, replaced by chaos and uncertainty, opening the city to attack.
No individual or group has yet taken responsibility for the attack. But Biden this week warned that ISIS wanted to strike the airport. U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence detailed some of its specifics to Public Opinions, such as ISIS’s plans to detonate a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device and launch shoulder-fired rockets.
ISIS has moved fighters and materials for the bombs from Nangarhar and Kunar provinces to areas around the airport, a U.S. official said. On Thursday morning, that U.S. official added that an IED attack to breach the outer perimeter wall of the airport might come within six hours. Afterward, ISIS fighters would shoot into the crowd with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades “in hopes of reaching processing centers” at the airport, the official said.
In the last day, the Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, had denied that an airport attack had been imminent.
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