KABUL: Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover. The attacks killed over 100 people, including 13 U.S. soldiers, reports said on Friday.
The blasts came hours after Western officials warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport. But that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the U.S. officially ends its 20-year presence on Aug. 31.
There were about 5,000 people awaiting flights on the airfield, officials said.
The Islamic State or Daesh group claimed responsibility for the killings on its Amaq news channel. The Daesh affiliate in Afghanistan is far more radical than the Taliban, who recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz. The Taliban have condemned the blasts.
Also among the dead were 28 Taliban members, according to the group that is now ruling Afghanistan.
One of the bombers struck people standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water. Those who moments earlier had hoped to get on flights out could be seen carrying the wounded to ambulances in a daze, their own clothes darkened with blood.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said one explosion was near an airport entrance and another was a short distance away by a hotel. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said clearly some failure at the airport allowed a suicide bomber to get so close to the gate.
He said the Taliban has been screening people outside the gates, though there was no indication that the Taliban deliberately allowed Thursday’s attacks to happen. He said the U.S. has asked Taliban commanders to tighten security around the airport’s perimeter.
U.S. officials initially said 11 Marines and one Navy medic were among those who died. Another service member died hours later. Eighteen service members were wounded and officials warned the toll could grow. More than 140 Afghans were wounded, an Afghan official said.
WHO ARE THE ATTACKERS
ISIL-K is known as an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS or Daesh) that was seeking to establish a new caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
The armed group was formed in 2014 by breakaway fighters of the Pakistani Taliban, and fighters from Afghanistan who pledged allegiance to the late ISIL leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
ISIL-K have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.
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