Some evacuations have been halted from Afghanistan after there was an explosion outside the gates of the Kabul’s International Airport on Thursday afternoon local time.
Thirteen US service members and at least sixty Afghans were killed and 140 others were injured. Ten of the service members killed were U.S. Marines.
The US Embassy now says that there are also reports of gunfire at several airport gates; it recommends that all Americans left at the gates to leave the area immediately.
— GeopoliticalUpdates (@GeopolUpdates) August 26, 2021
CNN has reported that two suicide bombers were the source of the explosion at the “Abbey” gate of the airport.
There have been at least 140 people wounded in the attacks, with the fatalities occurring among the Afghans who had been pressed against the gates of the airport and the US service members who had been stationed there.
Tensions had ratcheted up yet again on Wednesday night after US, British and Australian officials warned their citizens to stay away from the airport.
Earlier, reports had stated that there were still a total of 1,000 Americans who still need to be evacuated from the country who cannot get to the airport.
Explosion in Kabul comes after ISIS threat
The New York Times stated that Australian officials described that there was “an ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack” in the country just prior to the explosion in Kabul.
On Tuesday, the Taliban had warned the US not to encourage Afghans to leave the country, instituting checkpoints all along the perimeter of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
In effect, these checkpoints have made it almost impossible for Afghans and Americans alike to reach the relative safety of the airport, where they at least had a chance to make it onto a flight.
“Hostage situation of our own making” as Americans still awaiting evacuation
In a hard-hitting interview on CNN on Thursday morning, Afghanistan expert Peter Bergen put the blame for the chaos that is now ongoing in the country squarely on the shoulders of President Biden, saying that because of the numbers of Americans who are still on the ground there, there is a “hostage situation of our own making” that is all the responsibility of the American President.
Meanwhile, the nation of Turkey is withdrawing its troops from the airport, according to a statement from its defense ministry.
A UK official had already warned the public of a threat from ISIS threat as the days and hours fly by toward the August 31 deadline for American and coalition forces to leave the country once and for all.
Officials from the European nations of Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark stated that they would no longer be able to airlift people out from the Airport, which has both civilian and military sections.
However, the Pentagon had maintained throughout that the US’ airlift will continue as scheduled until the Aug. 31 deadline set by President Biden.
A statement released by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Thursday morning read as follows:
“We can confirm that a number of U.S. service members were killed in today’s complex attack at Kabul airport. A number of others are being treated for wounds. We also know that a number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and injured.”
US warned its citizens to stay away from, or leave, airport “immediately” on Wednesday night
The airport has been the focus of all Afghans — including many thousands who worked for US and coalition forces — and the remaining Americans and other foreigners who wanted to leave Afghanistan after the lightning-fast takeover by the Taliban.
Yesterday, in a turnabout in policy, the US Embassy had suddenly warned Americans to stay away from the airport and recommended that anyone outside the perimeter should “leave immediately,” after citing unspecified security threats.
The UK and Australian governments then issued warnings to their citizens, with Australian officials stating that there was “an ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack.”
There is a remnant of American civilians, along with untold thousand of other foreigners who are still trying to make it to the airport to leave before the Tuesday, August 31 deadline.
The Times reports that even now there are “thousands” of Afghan nationals who are camped out just beyond the airport in a last-ditch effort to escape the embattled nation. Some do have papers allowing them to leave; some do not.
The Turkish troops who have been in charge of running the international airport for the past six years, are withdrawing now, abandoning the plan to remain in Afghanistan after the US withdraws.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had previously offered to keep his nation’s troops on the ground after the deadline despite the Taliban’s demands that they depart.
A senior US official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed to the Times that the US was tracking a “specific” and “credible” threat at the airport from the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.
This same group has reportedly carried out dozens of attacks in recent years, with many targeting ethnic minorities and other civilians.
Early on Thursday, What House officials that a total of 13,400 people had been evacuated from the Kabul airport in the previous 24 hours, bringing the number of all those who had been evacuated to 95,700 since the Taliban retook the city.
Belgium decided to stop all flights from Kabul on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Thursday morning, after the warnings of suicide attacks in the vicinity of the Kabul Airport.
“On Wednesday, during the day, the situation quickly got worse,” De Croo stated today at a press conference. “We learned that there was a threat of suicide-bomb attacks in the vicinity of the airport and in the crowds. We also saw that access to the airport gates became more difficult and even impossible as a result.”
He went on to say that the decision was made after Belgium successfully carried out five evacuation flights on Wednesday. It was made “in consultation with European partners,” he added. The last flights out for Belgium took all the Belgian military personnel who had been stationed at the airport, he noted.
Dutch officials also called a halt to evacuations, with a statement from the defense ministry saying that the government could no longer continue because of the rapidly deteriorating situation.
They also then advised against any travel to the Kabul airport. The Dutch defense ministry said it would do whatever it possibly could to evacuate all those currently inside the airport. However, it noted that all its remaining military personnel and its embassy staffers would leave on the last flights out of Afghanistan.
Officials from Denmark’s defense ministry also told the press on Wednesday evening that its armed forces had undertaken their last evacuation from Kabul, noting that the “increase in threat and risk around the airport” had been a factor in stopping all further flights.
The Times reports as of Thursday morning that at Least 250,000 Afghans who worked with the U.S. have still not been evacuated.
With the current cessation of flights, experts say there is now not enough time before the deadline expires for all these individuals to be rescued, even if they are eligible for the special visas that the US would give them.