The US and UK have announced that they will continue evacuation operations in Afghanistan despite an alleged terrorist attack on Kabul airport that may have left many dead and dozens injured.
After chairing an emergency meeting on the situation in Afghanistan, the British Prime Minister said the British Airlift would continue “until the last moment”.
“We can continue the program as we have done before, on the schedule we have, and we will,” said Johnson.
Meanwhile, Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie, commandant of US Central Command, said at a press conference, “We are continuing the mission. Our mission is to evacuate U.S. citizens, third country nationals, special immigrant visa holders, U.S. embassy staff, and vulnerable Afghans.
“Despite this attack, we are continuing the mission.”
While the death toll was estimated at 13 and nearly 60 injured, video images uploaded by Afghan journalists showed dozens of people killed in crowded crowds outside the airport.
US officials said 11 US Marines and a Navy medic were killed in the attack on the airport. A New York Times reporter counted 40 bodies. The Wall Street Journal said 60 Afghans died.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed that a “complex attack” occurred outside Hamid Karzai International Airport, killing “a number of US soldiers” and injuring others as “a number of Afghans were involved in the heinous attack have fallen victim ”.
The Department of Defense said no casualties had been reported at an early stage by the British military or the government.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said at least 13 people were killed and 15 injured in two suicide attacks outside the airport, which was the focus of efforts to escape Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Defense confirmed or did not deny whether the so-called splinter cell of the Islamic State (IS) Isis-K, after previous warnings about the terrorist group in Afghanistan, is suspected to be behind the explosions.
However, an anonymous US official said the explosions were “definitely” carried out by ISIS.
Kirby said at least one explosion occurred in or near the Baron Hotel, where Britain was processing British and Afghans eligible for evacuation after the Taliban took control of the country.
He said another explosion occurred near the Abbey Gate of Kabul Airport.
PA GraphicsPress Association Images
About 60 people wounded in the attack were treated at a nearby surgical center, according to Emergency, a charity that operates a network of war hospitals and first aid stations in Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said his group strongly condemn the attack, claiming it occurred in an area under US control.
Federal Minister of Defense James Heappey had previously warned that there were “very credible reports” of an “immediate” and “serious” threat of terrorism.
He had urged people queuing outside the airport trying to flee the Taliban to go to safety amid concerns about the IS terrorist cell.
Johnson paid tribute to the Afghans and members of the US military who were killed.
“We offer our condolences to the United States of America and the Afghan people,” he said.
Johnson did not want to comment on who was suspected by the government to be behind the attack.
He said the government will pressurize the Taliban to let them leave later, while some Afghans who might get into the UK will not be evacuated until the airlift ends.
Alicia Kearns, a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and National Security Strategy, said “many were injured” in an attack near the Baron Hotel.
The Conservative MP tweeted, “A bomb or gunfire attack on the north gate of Baron’s Hotel. Concerned that this will wreak havoc on the evacuation – injuring so many. My heart goes out to all those injured and killed. “
Her colleague Nus Ghani said she was on the phone with someone outside Kabul airport when the explosion took place.
“Explosion at Kabul Airport. I was on the phone with an Afghan outside the airport when he heard the explosion, ”the MP tweeted before saying he was“ OK ”and on his way to a“ safe house ”.
Former Royal Marine Paul Farthing, the founder of an animal shelter in Kabul who campaigns for the evacuation of his staff and animals, said his vehicle was “in chaos” outside the airport.
Known as Pen, he told the PA news agency, “All of a sudden we heard gunshots and our vehicle was targeted, had our driver not turned around, he would have been shot in the head by a man with an AK-47.
“We were at the airport and back out of the airport; the whole thing is a mess. “
A local witness told the PA he heard the explosion at Kabul airport when he went to evening prayers.
Ahmad, whose name was changed for security reasons, said he was safe as he was some distance from the explosion.
“First there was an explosion and then there was fire, I mean … heavy gunfire,” he said. “But also in the far distance people were running … the alarm was sounding.”
The evacuation efforts were already strained after a warning from the Foreign Office on Wednesday evening for British nationals near the airport to leave the airport and to go to safety due to the “ongoing and high threat of terrorist attacks”.
Before the deadline for the withdrawal of British troops prior to the withdrawal of US forces, Johnson had sworn to “do everything in our power” after US President Joe Biden rejected his request to extend the time frame.
However, the Prime Minister acknowledged that although the “lion’s share” of eligible Afghans have been removed from the country, “there will be people who will still need help”.
Heappey said the UK had planned eleven flights from Kabul on Thursday but declined to say if that will be the end of the operation, citing the safety of troops on the ground.
The US ensures security at Kabul airport, which means that other Allied forces must stop their evacuation efforts and depart before the Americans.
Heappey had said that eight RAF flights had managed to get 1,988 people out of Kabul in the past 24 hours, bringing the total since the Taliban’s power march began to 12,279.