Kabul suicide bombers kill dozens, including 13 US soldiers

KABUL, Afghanistan – Two explosions killed dozens of people, including at least 13 American soldiers, tearing apart crowds outside Afgh...


KABUL, Afghanistan – Two explosions killed dozens of people, including at least 13 American soldiers, tearing apart crowds outside Afghanistan’s main airport on Thursday, just hours after Western governments warned of an imminent attack by the Islamic State and asked their people to stay away from the airport.

The attack, carried out by at least two suicide bombers, struck the only way out for the thousands of foreign nationals and tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of their Afghan allies who are trying to flee the country after the Taliban took control and before the final withdrawal of American troops, scheduled for next Tuesday.

Afghan health officials have given varying estimates of the death toll at the capital Kabul International Airport – from at least 30 to over 60, and 120 to 140 injured – while a Taliban spokesman said cited at least 13 civilians killed and 60 injured.

For US forces, the attacks were a horrific coda for the nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan – one of their heaviest casualties, just days before they left the country. In addition to the 13 soldiers killed, 15 were wounded, the Pentagon said.

“We are outraged as well as heartbroken,” President Biden said in a speech at the White House.

“To those who carried out this attack, as well as to all those who wish America harm on America, please know it,” he told the attackers. “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with all the measures at my disposal.

Passers-by hoping to find survivors made their way through torn and bloodied bodies littering the ground outside one of the airport’s main gates, or waded into a drainage channel where other bodies floated in the ‘water.

“I saw the bodies of women, children and men scattered all over the place after the explosion,” said an Afghan witness, who requested anonymity because he feared for his safety. He said he and other civilians, as well as Taliban fighters, fled after the first explosion, as there were rumors that Islamic State “had sent four suicide bombers”, and he feared more detonations .

The bombings hint at a new wave of violence that could be expected in a people and a country that have endured more than 40 years of war, as the new regime of Taliban militants is challenged by even more extremist groups as the Islamic State Khorasan, the terrorist branch known as ISIS-K.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of its followers in Afghanistan.

Intelligence has exposed other “very, very real” terrorist threats to the airport, General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of US Central Command, said at a press briefing, including plans rocket attacks and a bombing of a vehicle.

But President Biden and other U.S. officials have insisted the carnage and continued danger will not stop the U.S.-led airlift which, after a late and difficult start, carried more than 100,000 people outside Afghanistan in the past two weeks. Many of them were Afghans who had worked with NATO forces and their families, feared Taliban retaliation and hoped to start new lives in other parts of the world.

“We will not be deterred from the task at hand,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement. “To do anything less – especially now – would dishonor the goal and sacrifice these men and women to our country and the people of Afghanistan.”

Hours after the blasts, “we continue to bring people to the airport,” General McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon from his headquarters in Tampa, Florida. “The plan is designed to work under stress.”

Mr Biden has repeatedly stated that he wants to end the long United States involvement in Afghanistan precisely to avoid such American losses. Some NATO allies and humanitarian groups have called on him to delay the final military withdrawal, but the president said Thursday’s attacks reinforce “why I have been so determined to limit the duration of this mission.”

“These American servicemen who gave their lives,” said Mr. Biden, were “heroes who embarked on a dangerous and selfless mission to save the lives of others.”

Most of the victims of the bombing were Afghan civilians, including families with young children, who had invaded the airport in hopes of gaining valuable space on one of the departing military transports. One explosion exploded at the Abbey Gate on the southeast perimeter of the airport, and the other near the Hotel Baron a few hundred yards away.

Mohammad Shah, an Afghan witness, said he went to the airport to accompany a friend who had recently come from France to get married and was ready to leave. He said he waited at a distance as the friend tried to make his way through the crowds to the airport gate, looked for him, to no avail, then heard the first explosion .

“I recognized him by his sandals,” Mr. Shah said of his friend’s body, which he said he brought to the man’s parents. “The canal was full of bodies, dozens of bodies were on the ground, the situation was very, very bad in the region. “

At the emergency hospital, under the spotlight and the eyes of an anxious crowd, ambulance after ambulance arrived bringing injured people from the airport, including children. Zargoona, a journalist and former government employee, cried as she described how she received a call from a taxi driver informing her that her injured husband was inside.

“I begged him not to go, but he went this morning with his government ID to try to show foreigners,” she said. “We have four children, what’s going to happen to us now? “

At Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, a doctor said there were 27 dead and 57 injured transported from the airport – and there was no room left in the morgue.

General McKenzie said it appeared that a suicide bomber, most likely wearing a concealed explosives vest, had made it through the checkpoints outside the airport, many of which were led by Taliban soldiers, supposed to detect such attackers. He said he had no reason to believe that the Taliban, who are anxious for the Americans to leave as quickly as possible, knowingly let the bomber pass.

The Taliban chief spokesperson, however, insisted that the attack took place in an area where US forces controlled security.

The explosion hit the door of the airport, where US troops are checking people trying to enter. Shots followed, but it was not clear who was shooting. The general said US forces would work with the Taliban to keep crowds away from airport gates and close some roads to thwart vehicle attacks.

“This is a close quarters war – the breath of the person you are looking for is upon you,” General McKenzie said, adding, “I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the heroism” of the military personnel who carry out this perilous work.

“If we can find who is associated with this, we will pursue them,” he said.

Mr. Biden vowed: “We will respond with force and precision in our time” against the leaders of the Islamic State who ordered the attack. He added: “We have reason to believe that we know who they are.”

U.S. Marines at Abbey Gate had worked tirelessly for days, well aware that their time to help Afghans and American citizens flee the country was running out as the August 31 withdrawal date approached. Ten of them were among the dead.

The State Department had identified about 6,000 Americans who were in Afghanistan on August 14, the day before the Taliban entered Kabul and the US-backed president, Ashraf Ghani, fled. On Wednesday, the ministry said that number had dropped to 1,500 and was frantically trying to reach them all, telling them to go to the airport or sending helicopters to extract them.

But then intelligence of an impending attack prompted the United States and NATO allies to tell people overnight not to approach the airport. Even so, on Thursday afternoon, the State Department said, about 500 more Americans had left the country and hundreds more were waiting to be evacuated, while some U.S. citizens had reported that they had not. intend to leave.

Early Friday morning, alarmed residents of Kabul reported another round of explosions near the airport, raising fears of another bombing. Taliban officials and Afghan journalists quickly reported the opposite: It was the Americans, they said, destroying their own equipment as they prepared to leave Afghanistan.

Reporting was provided by Jim Huylebroek, Victor Blue, Fahim Abed, Najim Rahim, Fatima Faizi, Helene Cooper, Michael Shear and Lara Jakes.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Kabul suicide bombers kill dozens, including 13 US soldiers
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