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Washington — There were at least two explosions near Kabul’s airport amid a huge and chaotic evacuation effort from Afghanistan on Thursday, the Pentagon said, with civilians and US service members among the casualties of what was described as a “complex attack”.
US officials said they were concerned that further attacks could occur at the airport after the twin blasts, which a Taliban official said killed 13 people, including children, and wounded many Taliban guards.
A US official, citing initial information, said five US military personnel may have been hurt. US officials have said there are about 5,200 American troops providing security at the Kabul airport. The attacks came after the US and allies urged Afghans to leave the area because of a threat by Islamic State militants.
A source familiar with US congressional briefings said US officials believe that the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan (Isis-K), after an old name for the region, was responsible. Isis-K is opposed by the US and the Taliban.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said one blast occurred near the airport’s Abbey Gate and the other close to the Baron Hotel. Two US officials said at least one of the explosions appeared to be from a suicide bombing.
“We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US and 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.”
The US embassy in Kabul described “a large explosion” and said there had been reports of gunfire.
A source who was in touch with a witness by text message quoted the witness as saying there appeared to have been two separate but simultaneous attacks, one by a suicide bomber near buses lined up outside Abbey Gate, where the blast was followed by gunfire. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, quoted the witness as saying that children were among the casualties.
The attacks came after the US and allies urged Afghans to leave the area because of a threat by Islamic State.
An airlift of foreign nationals and their families, as well as some Afghans, has been under way since the day before Taliban forces captured Kabul on August 15, capping a swift advance across the country as US and allied troops withdrew.
The US has been racing to carry out the airlift before its military is set to fully withdraw from the country by August 31. There was no indication from the White House that President Joe Biden plans to change the August 31 withdrawal target as a result of the attacks.
Biden was in a meeting with security officials about the situation in Afghanistan, where the US is in the final steps of ending its 20-year war, when the explosion was first reported, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Biden, secretary of state Tony Blinken, defence secretary Lloyd Austin, joint chiefs of staff chair Gen Mark Milley and vice-president Kamala Harris monitored events via video links.
In an alert issued on Wednesday, the US embassy in Kabul had advised citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately, citing unspecified “security threats”.
A Western diplomat in Kabul said that areas outside the airport gates had been “incredibly crowded” again despite the warnings.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.