A terror attack occurred outside Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday as western countries scrambled to evacuate nationals from the country following its fall to the Taliban.
The “complex” attack came after several western countries, including the UK, told nationals to stay away from the area amid warnings of an imminent terrorist attack in the country. Afghans trying to access the airport were told to leave immediately and move to a safe place.
Two British adults and the child of a British national, at least 13 US troops and dozens of Afghan nationals were among those killed.
This is what we know so far.
A blast happened on Thursday at about 6pm local time (13:30 GMT), close to the Baron Hotel, which was being used by British officials to process Afghans hoping to travel to the UK.
It was widely said that this was closely followed by a second, which happened close to the Abbey Gate, one of the airport’s main entrances.
We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can.
But US officials now believe it to have been one blast, rather than the originally suspected two.
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said on Friday that one of the bombings happened in a “standoff area” where British troops had pushed back from the hotel processing centre. He said a suicide bomber walked into the middle of waiting families before carrying out the terror attack.
“We think it was one suicide bomber and another smaller explosion detonated in the middle of the crowd near the canal near the Baron’s hotel,” he said during the media round on Friday.
“The individual got to the perimeter we had pushed out the day... It was about 300 metres, we think, from the Baron’s hotel, and walked straight into the middle of those families waiting.”
Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary also said an explosion occurred in a canal where Afghan refugees were having their visa documents vetted. He said a suicide bomber then detonated his explosives in the crowd of people before a second attacker started opening fire.
An eyewitness to the attack outside Kabul airport told a reporter at the scene that the blast was “really powerful”.
“Where we were, there was suddenly an explosion,” the man said in footage shared by Reuters.
He said he saw “at least 400 to 500 people” in the immediate area and described some of the victims as “foreign forces”. “We carried the wounded here on stretchers and... my clothes are completely bloodied,” he said.
The Taliban have pledged not to attack Western forces during the evacuation, but insist the foreign troops must be out by America’s self-imposed deadline of 31 August.
A British Defence source has told Sky News they believe it is “highly likely” that Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) was responsible for the attack.
Are there casualties?
The UK said on Friday that two British adults and the child of a British national were confirmed to be among those killed.
Officials had already said that at least 13 US troops were killed alongside at least 60 Afghan nationals, while more than 150 people were injured, including 15 US service personnel. The UK said a further two people were injured in the attack.
The BBC is reporting that at least 90 people have been killed.
Wallace said those killed would’ve included families waiting in the canal, or by the canal, for processing.
Meanwhile, UK Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, a member of the foreign affairs and national security strategy committees, said on Thursday that there had been “many hurt” in the blast at the Baron Hotel.
“A bomb or attack with gun fire at northern gate of Baron’s Hotel. Worried this will devastate evacuation – so many hurt. My heart is with all those injured and killed,” she said.
Were any warnings given?
Yes, the evening before the attack the US received a “specific” and “credible” threat from the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, and Western governments began urging people to leave the area.
Yesterday, a day before the explosion, US Marines who manned Abbey Gate had already been briefed on the potential o… https://t.co/JukIu1ipYm
The Taliban have said the attack happened in an area controlled by US forces, and condemned the bombings.
At a press conference, US president Joe Biden said the attack was believed to have been carried out by an affiliate of the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan, Isis-K, adding: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
He added that US would now focus on finding the culprits of the attack “without large military operations”.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said that the situation has “profoundly deteriorated” in Afghanistan.
He called for caution before the situation descended into one “that we can’t control” and added that the situation around the airport remains very dangerous.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described the attack and those responsible as “despicable” after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting. He confirmed that the evacuation effort would continue. “We extend our condolences both to the United States of America and the people of Afghanistan”, he said.
I utterly condemn the barbaric terrorist attack in Kabul in which Afghans and members of the US military lost their… https://t.co/SNePfMqYLY
While Wallace added: “My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost loved ones in these senseless attacks today at Kabul airport.
“I send my deepest condolences to the families of the American victims and offer my full support to our closest ally.”
Meanwhile, UK transport secretary Grant Shapps issued an aviation notice further advising airlines to avoid Afghan air space under 25,000 feet.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that people who haven’t been able to get evacuation flights from the city will not be forgotten. She also added that the German foreign ministry is still in negotiation with the Taliban.
“Tens of thousands of people have been rescued but I want to say again today: we will not forget those people who could not be rescued by the air bridge. Rather we will do everything we can to enable their evacuation,” she said, according to The Guardian.
NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, took to Twitter to “strongly condemn” the “horrific attack terrorist attack outside of Kabul airport.”
Donald Trump later weighed in:
How many Americans are still in Afghanistan?
There are around 1,000 Americans left in the country, according to the Pentagon.
General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, said: “As of today we have 5,000 evacuees on the ramp awaiting air left. Since August 14, we’ve evacuated more than 104,000 civilians, over 66,000 by the United States and over 37,000 by our allies and partners. ... As the secretary of state said yesterday, we believe there are about a little more than 1,000 Americans left in Afghanistan at this point.”
And how about British?
Although the exact figure is unclear, the MoD confirmed on Thursday that the UK has so far evacuated 13,146 British nationals, Afghans, embassy staff and nationals from partner nations since August 13.
We’ve evacuated more than 12,000 people from Afghanistan and our teams are working hard to make sure they continue… https://t.co/LZBBvvDOlk
— UK Prime Minister (@UK Prime Minister)
Mr Johnson has vowed “we’ll do everything we can to get everybody else” before the deadline for British troops to depart in advance of the exit of US forces.
What now happens with the evacuation?
Both Biden and Johnson pledged to continue to evacuations, despite the very real threat from ISIS. Troops are bringing people onto the airfield at Kabul airport, with more and more people being processed as the hours pass.
Johnson said the “overwhelming majority” of eligible people have already been helped to flee the Taliban by the RAF and British forces would “keep going up until the last moment” to evacuate others despite the “barbaric” incident.
Biden said the country’s own airlift operation would “not be deterred by terrorists”.
Meanwhile, McKenzie added: “We’ll continue to process and flow people out. The plan is designed to operate under stress and under attack. And we will coordinate to make sure it’s safe for American citizens to come to the airfield. If it’s not, we’ll tell them to hold and work other ways to get them to the airport. We’ll continue to flow them out until the end of the month.”
On Friday, Wallace said the UK evacuation mission in Kabul was into its final “hours” after closing the main processing centre in Baron Hotel near the airport.
He told Sky News: “We will process the people that we’ve brought with us, the 1,000 people approximately in the airfield now and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed and we have a matter of hours.”
But he added: “The sad fact is not every single one will get out.”