As US troops searched the Afghans, a crowd bomber arrived

WASHINGTON – The suicide bomber waited until the last possible moment, US officials said. A crowd struggling to enter Hamid Karzai Inte...


WASHINGTON – The suicide bomber waited until the last possible moment, US officials said.

A crowd struggling to enter Hamid Karzai International Airport had converged on Abbey Gate, a main entrance occupied by Marines and other military personnel. The troops knew they could be the target of an attack; just the day before, the State Department had warned of a “credible” threat three doors from the airport, where more than 5,000 American soldiers had helped to evacuate more than 100,000 people in less than two weeks. Abbey Gate was on the list.

Airport security had closed two of the gates, but decided to leave Abbey Gate open, US officials said. They believed that earlier in the day Taliban commanders and fighters at checkpoints along the airport road had foiled two possible militants’ attempts to reach the airport.

But the third has passed.

At 5:48 p.m., the suicide bomber, wearing a 25-pound explosive vest under his clothes, approached the group of Americans who were searching people in hopes of entering the compound. He waited, officials said, until he was about to be searched by US troops. And then he detonated the bomb, which was unusually large for a suicide vest, killing himself and triggering an attack that would kill dozens, including 13 US servicemen.

“It’s a close quarters war – the breath of the person you’re looking for is upon you,” US Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said Thursday after the attack, describing the face. -to-face. -Cope with contact between the Marines at the airport gate and the Afghans they must search before allowing them to enter.

Pentagon officials said they are still piecing together the chain of events that unfolded Thursday at Abbey Gate. There will be after action reviews and storyboards with detailed lists of what led up to this moment. There will be questions: why were so many soldiers gathered so close to each other? How did the suicide bomber escape Taliban checkpoints? Someone let him pass?

As the extent of the damage has become clearer, health officials in Kabul have increased the death toll, saying at least 170 people have been killed. Afghans seeking to escape the Taliban regime continued to flock to the airport on Friday, but the crowd size was estimated at hundreds, up from the thousands who were there when the explosion occurred. The airport remained largely locked, although evacuation flights continued.

Just after 2 p.m. on Friday, as another American gray-tailed plane rose into the sky over the airport, this one carrying the flag-draped coffins of the 13 Americans, the angst of Thursday’s bombardment subsided. spread from Kabul to Kansas. At the Dover Air Force Base Mortuary in Delaware, the military was preparing for the ritual of dressing and preparing another group of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

“I’ve never been the political type and I’m not going to start now,” Marilyn Soviak, sister of Maxton Soviak, a member of the Ohio Navy who was among the dead, posted on Instagram. “What I will say is that my beautiful, smart, beating to the sound of his own drum, boring and charming little brother was killed yesterday while helping to save lives.”

Immediately after the bomb exploded, Defense Ministry officials said, fighters nearby started shooting. Officials said some of the Americans and Afghans at Abbey Gate may have been affected by the gunfire. There was so much confusion following the explosion that the military first reported that a second suicide bombing had taken place at the nearby Hotel Baron. That turned out to be wrong, according to Major General Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for regional operations.

At 25 pounds, the vest worn by the suicide bomber caused untold damage. According to army manuals, suicide bombers typically wear either a belt containing 10 pounds or less of explosives, or a vest filled with 10 to 20 pounds of explosives. Along with a 25-pound vest that included pieces of metal that acted like deadly shrapnel, the bomber also injured dozens of Afghans, as well as 14 additional US soldiers, who were evacuated to the regional medical center. from Landstuhl near Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

As of last month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III ordered a Marine Expeditionary Unit from the USS Iwo Jima to land in Kuwait and be ready to assist with evacuations in case Kabul would fall into the hands of a burgeoning Taliban, it has been clear from US troops that they could once again find themselves at the forefront of a war in Afghanistan declared over by a succession of presidents.

It didn’t take long for Hamid Karzai International Airport to transform from a commercial hub into a final defensive position for the US military, which once sent tens of thousands of troops to remote corners. from Afghanistan. Apache gunships flew overhead and rapid reaction forces from the Marines orbited the perimeter. In the command center, the streams of drones and surveillance cameras broadcast infrared images of crowds gathered at the doors.

The Marines who maneuvered Abbey gate Thursday had arrived in Kabul about a week earlier. They were cool and connected to their British parachute counterparts with one goal in mind: to get as many people through as possible. This meant using an interpreter and loudspeaker to persuade a growing crowd to back down, a laborious task that allowed the Marines to open two entry points.

The fall of Kabul had sparked a tsunami of desperate phone calls, emails and texts from foreign organizations that had worked in Afghanistan for the past 20 years, all begging the Pentagon to help evacuate their Afghan workers and allies . Others who have worked with Afghans, including teachers who have visited schools in Afghanistan, have joined with US senators, media chiefs and leaders of global organizations in pleading for help for their elders. partners, who are threatened with reprisals by the Taliban.

The requests reached US troops at Kabul airport. “The Marines who died were the ones helping our team,” said Cori Shepherd, a filmmaker who once helped Afghan girls go to school in the United States. “These men were literally going out into the masses and pulling our women to safety, while also coordinating with our guy to find them. The men who worked at Abbey Gate were brave beyond measure.

Rear Admiral Peter G. Vasely, a former member of the Navy SEALs who ran the airport operation, called on Taliban commanders to take a closer look at people heading towards Abbey Gate, officials said. The Taliban, General McKenzie told reporters on Thursday, may have “thwarted” further attempts.

But at the end of the day, “there is no substitute for a young man or a young woman – a young man or a young woman from the United States – standing there to search that person before you let him in.” General McKenzie said.

Efforts to get vulnerable people out of Afghanistan will continue, he said. “Because that’s why we’re here.”

Jean Ismay contributed reports.

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Newsrust - US Top News: As US troops searched the Afghans, a crowd bomber arrived
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