Photo Credit: US Marine Corps Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Melissa Marnell / public domain / Wikimedia
Evacuees await their departure at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Aug. 23, 2021. US service members are assisting the Department of State with a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) Aug. 21, 2021

Two suicide bombers with two explosives vests carried out two separate attacks on Thursday (Aug. 26) at Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport and the nearby Baron Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, located some 300 meters away from the airport’s Abbey Gate. British troops were using the hotel as a base for evacuating UK personnel.

Following the two suicide bombings, an additional group of gunmen opened fire on the civilians waiting at the gate for processing.

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The Islamic State terrorist organization’s local Afghanistan branch, ISIS-K, took responsibility for the attacks.

US General Ken McKenzie, head of US CENTCOM said in a late-day video briefing from Afghanistan that among the more than 70 dead, at least 12 US Marines and soldiers were killed in the airport bombing, in addition to at least 60 Afghan civilians. At least 15 US soldiers were injured as well but despite the attacks, “We are continuing the mission,” the general said.

Fox News National Security Correspondent Jennifer Griffin quoted a US official who confirmed the explosion at the Kabul airport took place near a sewage canal where thousands of Afghanistan civilians were standing — in the knee-deep dirty water — that runs along the perimeter wall of the airport.

The canal was described by Sky Knew correspondent Stuart Ramsay as “a road that leads to the processing area set up with British military, and which is a protected area.” It was also in the same general area where US personnel until recently were welcoming American citizens to board evacuation flights, four knowledgeable sources said.

“We have put more than 5,000 service members at risk to save the lives of many more,” McKenzie said. “There are more extremely active threats against the air field and against the airport that we have to keep watch for,” he added, saying those potential attacks could include rocket attacks, mortar attacks, suicide vehicle bombers, pedestrian suicide bomber and others — with various military means to protect the air field from all of them.”

“We are also using the Taliban for protection,” McKenzie said. “I don’t know if they let it happen, but I don’t think there is anything to convince me that they let it happen. . .We share a common purpose,” he said. “They want us to get out by the deadline and we want to get out as soon as it’s possible.”

US Marines immediately welded shut the gates at the Abbey Gate entrance to the airport following the attacks, which came hours after western intelligence sources warned of an imminent terrorist threat.

An Afghan interpreter who spoke with CBS News under the pseudonym “Carl” said he was close to the Abbey Gate when the bomber detonated his explosives vest, killing and wounding numerous civilians, including women and children.

“I saw a baby covered in blood on the ground there among the bodies,” he said. “She was about five years old. I picked her up and went to my car and drove to the hospital with her. There was a lot of traffic; when we got to the hospital I picked her up, but she died in my arms. She’s dead,” he said flatly. “I tried to help her. But she died.”

Wall Street Journal (WSJ) correspondent Dion Nissenbaum quoted Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen as as saying, “We strongly condemn this gruesome incident and will take every step to bring the culprits to justice.”

Biden Getting Updates
US President Joe Biden met with his national security team and is continuing to receive updates on the blast, a White House official told reporters.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are at the White House receiving updates with the president, along with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley.

Earlier in the day, Bennett and those who are with him on the visit met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

In the wake of the attacks, the US State Department issued an urgent alert to Americans still in the country, warning them to “avoid travelling to the airport and avoid airport gates at this time.”

A similar warning was sent out to Americans in the country earlier in the day by the US Embassy in Afghanistan, urging Americans still waiting at the airport and in other areas to leave the airport immediately and if not there yet, to refrain from heading there.

“US citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the US alert added. It was repeated after the attack as well.

Intelligence officials had been warning of a concrete threat from the strengthening ISIS-K Islamic State terrorist group in addition to the ongoing tensions with the Taliban, further adding to the existing tensions as the US and its European allies race to airlift out as many citizens and their allies with whom they worked locally over the past two decades.

Since mass evacuations began August 14, some 95,700 people have been evacuated out of Afghanistan. About 101,300 people have been airlifted out since the end of July. Of those, some 4,500 were US citizens and their families.

Kirby confirmed in a Twitter statement that American evacuation operations in Kabul will “not be wrapping up in 36 hours,” adding that US forces will continue to evacuate “as many people as we can until the end of the mission.”

It was, however, unclear whether the “end of the mission” would be declared on August 31, or extended until it truly had been completed. However, the General said there is no intention of ending the mission at present.

PBS News correspondent Jane Ferguson reported via Twitter that an interpreter working with US forces in the country said only holders of green cards and US passports are currently being evacuated via the airport. The interpreter said he had “all his paperwork with him for his SIV (special immigrant visa) application and letters from his employer and recommendation from his former US commander.

SIV applicants are some of those most at risk of Taliban reprisal killings, and most are doing their best to get to the airport regardless of security warnings, worried that in the end they might be left behind when the August 31 deadline runs out.

What’s Next?
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told a radio interviewer that Britain had 11 flights scheduled to leave Kabul, but declined to be clear about whether there would be any more, underlining the need to protect the UK troops on the ground.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced after the attack that his nation’s Ambassador to Afghanistan will leave the country and work from Paris, according to the AFP News Agency. France will try to evacuate “several hundred” more Afghans from Kabul, Macron added.

Other American allies said they were also halting evacuation flights from Afghanistan. The move leaves citizens and thousands of Afghans who had been cleared for entry, stranded and likely facing torture or death by the Taliban.

The Dutch Defense Ministry said Thursday in a letter to its parliament that it would stop evacuation flight operations in Kabul by the end of the day, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Dutch forces were hoping to evacuate the several hundred people who were already inside the airport, with diplomatic staff and Dutch troops departing on the final flight. In the wake of the attack, the Dutch Defense Ministry added that it was no longer able to assist its citizens and eligible Afghans in accessing the airport.

The last Italian flight from Kabul was slated to leave Thursday night, according to the Italian Defense Ministry.

Canadian forces in Kabul ended evacuation efforts for their citizens and Afghans earlier in the day on Thursday, Reuters reported, quoting acting chief of the defense staff General Wayne Eyre.

Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen said Wednesday that Denmark had already flown out its last evacuation flight, adding it was no longer safe to fly in and out of Kabul.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.