At least 85 people have been killed in two powerful explosions outside Kabul’s international airport, medical sources have told Al Jazeera, amid a huge and chaotic evacuation effort from Afghanistan.
On Thursday, two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans that had flocked to Kabul’s airport, in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover.
The attacks killed at least 72 Afghans and 13 US troops, Afghan and US officials said. A Taliban official earlier said children were among the dead.
The city’s main Emergency Hospital said on Twitter that at least 60 wounded people were transferred to their facility so far.
— EMERGENCY NGO (@emergency_ngo) August 26, 2021
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said one blast occurred near the airport’s Abbey Gate and the other close to the nearby Baron Hotel.
“We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties,” Kirby said on Twitter. “We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.”
Sources told Al Jazeera that tens of thousands of people had been waiting outside the Abbey Gate earlier in the day. The explosions came after US officials and allies had warned people not to come to the area around Hamid Karzai International due to the threat of an attack.
The Afghan affiliate of the ISIL (ISIS), known as the Islamic State Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), claimed responsibility for the attack.
Russian officials said two suicide bombers and gunmen had targeted crowds massing near the Kabul airport. Turkish officials confirmed there were two separate blasts.
There were chaotic scenes outside the Emergency Hospital as dozens of cars and ambulances brought in the wounded including the elderly and children.
Family members seeking information about their relatives who were reportedly wounded in the blasts were waiting anxiously outside the hospital.
Talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan are under way as buses with French citizens and people France wants to protect are at the entrance of Kabul airport, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday, while visiting Ireland.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, Macron said he could not guarantee that France would be successful in evacuating people from the country.
The blast marks the first such attack in the country since the Taliban took control of Kabul 10 days ago and before the group had fully announced its new government.
They will now be left to tend to any casualties with whatever resources are currently at their disposal, as much of the Afghan National Security Forces were left without jobs or direct orders since President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15.
Several countries urged people to avoid the airport earlier in the day, with one saying there was a threat of a bombing. But just days – or even hours for some nations – before the evacuation effort ends, few appeared to heed the call.
Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from Afghanistan’s ISIL group affiliate, which likely has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during their blitz across the country.
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told the BBC early Thursday there was ”very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack” at the airport, possibly within “hours”.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said his country had received information from the US and other countries about the “threat of suicide attacks on the mass of people”.
The acting US ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was “clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling”.
A while later, the blast was reported. US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the explosion, the White House said.
Wilson also said there remain “safe ways” for Americans to reach the airport, but “there undoubtedly will be” Afghans who had worked with or for the US in Afghanistan who will not be able to get out before the evacuation ends.
Late Wednesday, the US Embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, the UK and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport, with Australia’s foreign minister saying there was a “very high threat of a terrorist attack”.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that any attack was imminent in the wake of those warnings.
Earlier Thursday, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at those gathered at one airport gate to try to drive the crowd away, as someone launched tear gas canisters elsewhere.
Ali M Latifi contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.