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12 U.S. service members among casualties in twin suicide attacks outside Kabul airport

Twin bombings struck near the entrance to Kabul’s airport Thursday, ripping through crowds of Afghans and foreign nationals waiting for evacuation from the country and complicating an already-nightmarish airlift in its waning days.

“We can confirm that a number of U.S. service members were killed in today’s complex attack at Kabul airport.” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in statement. “A number of others are being treated for wounds. We also know that a number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and injured.”

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie at the Pentagon said 12 U.S. service members were killed and 15 wounded, in a briefing.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said 13 people were killed in the attacks, but there were later reports of at least 60 people killed. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told the Afghan news outlet TOLO that 52 people were wounded.

“We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate [at Kabul airport] was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties,” Kirby tweeted. “We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate. We will continue to update.”

Smoke rises from explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

(Wali Sabawoon/Associated Press)

The bombings came hours after Western intelligence agencies warned of a potential attack. An anonymous U.S. official told the Associated Press that the assaults were likely the work of the extremist Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, which includes former Taliban members who adhere to an even more radical interpretation of Islam.

President Biden has been briefed on the attacks, and his previously scheduled Oval Office meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was delayed.

Video from the attack sites showed bloodied corpses piled on a bed of crumpled plastic bottles near a sewage canal. The area was the scene of queues of hundreds of people who lined up for hours in the sun to be processed for departure on one of the evacuation flights. British soldiers barred reporters from entering the area. Shouting and sporadic gunshots, fired into the air could be heard from within.

Some bodies had to be fished out of the canal.

For days, thousands of Afghans and foreigners have been thronging Kabul’s international airport in their desperation to flee the country following its stunningly swift takeover by the Taliban. The Biden administration insists that the U.S. airlift will end Tuesday, although that will likely mean leaving behind thousands of Afghans at risk of persecution or retribution by the Taliban.

Despite the warnings Wednesday of a potential attack, the crowds did not abate. And even after the explosions, some Afghan families continued to wait outside the Baron Hotel, watched over by stern British paratroopers standing in silence. A baby’s cry pierced the air.

Some of the wounded were taken to an emergency center for war victims. Taliban fighters tried to keep onlookers from crowding the hospital entrance, shouting at some and waving cars away. A man standing at the hospital’s doors called out names with a loudspeaker to family members and relatives assembled outside.

One of the people waiting was Ramin Sarwary, a 30-year-old doctor who kept vigil at the gate for word of his friend’s brother.

Through his family, the brother had managed to get permission to go to the U.K.

“He wanted to leave this country,” Sarwary said, adding that his friend had gone to another hospital to see if his brother was being treated there.

“Now we’re waiting here for news if he’s alive or dead.”

Not far from where he sat was Navid Ihsan, an ophthalmologist whose two sons and daughter had been trying for days to reach the area near the Baron Hotel.

He stared at the gate, unable to speak. Instead it was his friend, an avuncular man named Abdul Ghaffar who spoke.

“We don’t know where they are. We’ve been trying to find them everywhere,” he said. “We’ve gone to two other hospitals and there’s no word.”

Abdul Qudus, 24, came to check on 11 of his family members from Beni Hisar, a village close to Kabul. Their business tanked after the Taliban swept through the city Aug. 15, and although they had no visas, they still rushed to the airport for a chance to leave the country.

“These were poor people — just street peddlers,” Qudus said. “We are feeling too bitter. All of us are feeling sad ever since the Taliban came.”

Hours later, there were still patients coming in. A yellow station wagon rolled up to the door of the Emergency Hospital. It’s trunk opened, and a little boy hobbled out before being placed on a stretcher and wheeled into the hospital.

A medic standing at the gate, Hafiz, fielded questions from desperate family members asking him if he recognized a name on the list of patients.

He shook his head when asked about the casualties.

“There were maybe 50 of them. Too many bodies. Too many wounded. There were five or six children in there too.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the airport bombings, saying the Islamic Emirate — the Taliban’s name for Afghanistan — was paying close attention to the security and protection of its people. But he also pointed an implicit barb at Washington, saying that the attack had taken place in an area where U.S. forces were responsible for security.

At Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, relatives clamored to snap photos of a list of names taped on a wall of the emergency unit.

Tawos Shirza, 35, an engineer who said he worked with the U.S. Marines in Helmand province for two years, was among the injured patients. He had gone to the airport to evacuate. A resident of Jalalabad, he arrived in Kabul on Thursday morning, traveling with his brother, Shirwali Shirza, 25, who was also at the hospital.

The father of six, Shirza had injuries to both his legs. He was about 20 feet from the explosion. He said he saw a flash and then blacked out. When he regained consciousness, he said there was human flesh resting on his shoulder. He fell down into the canal and his brother pulled him out, all soaked.

There were dead bodies in the water and Shizra recalled hearing gunfire as people fled in a panic.

Gulnur Atayi, a 30-year-old who worked as a security guard at a U.S. base in the western city of Herat, applied for a special immigrant visa three weeks ago.

It didn’t arrive, but he took his 18-year-old brother, Mohibullah, to try to get in line at the airport. When the bomb exploded, Atayi was nearby, and was injured in his legs and arms. He needed a blood transfusion in the hospital, one of his friends said

Mohibullah, who was some 300 yards away, was uninjured.

“I saw a flash, and then everyone just started running into each other,” he said, half-dazed with shock. He looked down at his light-blue tunic, covered in dirt. “It was chaos.”

In the intensive care ward of Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, 35-year-old Habib Jan lay amid an arsenal of beeping machines, his head and face covered with bandages. He never stopped moving, his body unable to find a comfortable position, as his chest kept on heaving.

His doctor, Hayatullah Himat, rattled off the injuries, saying he had sustained “poly trauma.”

“A relative of his sent him an invitation. He was going to give it to the Americans when the explosion happened,” said his brother-in-law, standing disconsolately to the side.

An orthopedic surgeon, Wahidullah Yacoobi, said Jan would have to be moved to another hospital for neurosurgery.

“And now we don’t have any ambulances. They’re all being used.”

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said as many as 1,500 Americans were still in Afghanistan. Biden pledged to get all U.S. nationals out of the country.

The U.S. Embassy, which is operating out of the Kabul airport, issued a strongly worded warning late Wednesday advising Americans to leave the airport’s environs and to avoid traveling there because of intelligence related to a possible terrorist attack.

The Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, a relatively new group known as ISIS-K, or Islamic State in Khorasan, is a bitter rival of the Taliban. It has been blamed for some of the most recent attacks in Afghanistan, including the deadly bombing of a girls’ school in Kabul.

Times staff writers Chris Megerian and Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this report.




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