Deadly explosions just ripped through areas close to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday, according to an initial report from The New York Times.
There were at least two explosions, and reports say they came from suicide bombers. This came hours after warnings from a senior U.K. defense official, who spoke of an "imminent" threat of a "severe" terrorist attack in or around Kabul's airport, from an active subset of an Islamic State militant group within Afghanistan.
Reporters stationed in an emergency room near the site of the explosions have witnessed at least 20 people carried into the site, with the Pentagon adding that several casualties were incurred, according to the report.
Pentagon's press secretary confirms casualties in Kabul explosions
The Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul earlier this month has sent thousands of citizens and foreign nationals rushing to the airport, causing unconscionable foot traffic and congestion. The airport features both military and civilian sectors, but people desperate to escape the imminent change in legal standards and potential backlash from the Taliban on former supporters of foreign occupiers have forced the U.S. and its coalition forces to remain at the airport to protect the process of general withdrawal. "We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of U.S. & civilian casualties," said the Pentagon's Press Secretary John Kirby, in a Twitter post. "We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate."
Kabul airport's Abbey Gate is a main entryway for the international hub, which is why the U.S. Embassy in Kabul gave a firm warning for citizens to avoid traveling toward or near airport gates, emphasizing a need for U.S. citizens at the Abbey Gate, North Gate, or East Gate to evacuate the area, immediately. Early reports suggest the subsequent explosion(s) happened when at least one suicide bomber detonated their explosive vest. It remains unclear precisely how many casualties or deaths there were, but substantial crowds have filled the gate in recent days. One man who saw the attack said to TOLO, an Afghan broadcasting service, that "dead bodies and wounded people were scattered everywhere after the explosion happened," and also said that foreign forces were already "on the ground."
Several countries halt airlifts, but US committed to evacuation
"It was a very powerful explosion — we carried out the casualties on carts, and look at my clothes covered in blood," added the bystander, indicating the fresh bloodstains soaking into his clothes. Elsewhere in Kabul, gunfire and alarms could be heard echoing from the airport. Wednesday night warnings from a senior U.S. official suggested a "specific" and "credible" threat from an affiliate of the Islamic State Khorasan, the Islamic State, or ISIS-K, with an attack on the airport likely. But it would have been highly difficult to identify one suicide bomber with a concealed explosive device amid a tightly-packed crowd of understandably stressed and frenetic bystanders, suggested the officials in the NYTimes report. As of writing, a handful of countries have already declared a halt to airlift evacuations amid concerns of the dicey security scenario that people in the airport currently face.
Before the explosions, Germany, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium had said they couldn't effectively execute airlifts from Kabul's airport, but the Pentagon has doubled down on its commitment to ensuring U.S. civilian airlifts would carry on. "We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission," said Press Secretary Kirby in another tweet. But he was quick to add that a higher priority will be placed on evacuating U.S. troops and equipment as that "mission" reaches a close. When the warnings hit the airwaves, roughly 1,500 U.S. citizens and many other foreigners were still in Afghanistan, desperate to reach the airport before the U.S. withdrawal deadline. There are also thousands of Afghan citizens camped beyond the perimeter of Kabul's airport, hoping to escape via one of the final flights leaving the country. But now, with explosions rocking the area around the main gates of the airport, we can expect the situation to become even more chaotic.
This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.