Multiple U.S. service members killed in explosions outside Kabul airport amid evacuations –

Published On: Thu, Aug 26th, 2021

Multiple U.S. service members killed in explosions outside Kabul airport amid evacuations

Western countries in recent days had urged people to avoid traveling to the area, in the latest setback for the massive airlift out of Kabul, the Afghan capital. Some countries said after the explosions that they would have to end evacuation efforts.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned what he called a “horrific terrorist attack.”

“My thoughts are with all those affected and their loved ones. Our priority remains to evacuate as many people to safety as quickly as possible,” he said on Twitter.

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The airport has been a flashpoint for violent and chaotic scenes since the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug.15. Over the weekend, U.S. defense officials warned about specific threats against those trying to leave Afghanistan.

Hospital staff bring an injured man on a stretcher for treatment after two blasts outside the airport in Kabul.Wakil Koshar / AFP – Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday also warned about the risk of attack from ISIS-K, known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) after an old name for the region. “Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians,” he said.

The president has stuck to his deadline for the U.S. mission to end in spite of criticism at home and abroad.

The Taliban have warned that any delay would cross a “red line” that would have consequences, but they have so far kept up their promise not to attack any Western forces as they evacuate.

Two decades after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, the militants’ resurgence has raised concerns that Afghanistan might once again provide a breeding ground for terrorism.

But the Taliban, whose fighters guard the perimeter outside the airport, are enemies of ISIS-K.

A senior Taliban commander said Thursday that they had issued an alert to their top leadership on the threat posed by ISIS-K.

The group arrested an ISIS terrorist at the airport a few days ago who told them about the network and their plans, he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity and without elaborating.

However, there have also been fears that ISIS-K may be able to capitalize on the chaos in the wake of the Taliban blitz across the country.

Taliban fighters are in control of the roads and multiple checkpoints leading to the airport, where they have used force to control crowds since seizing power.

But there were concerns the lack of a formal screening process could allow a suicide bomber to mix in with the thousands desperately waiting for a chance to escape the country.

Two Taliban leaders told NBC News that the group’s “biggest blunder” was releasing prisoners from jails as it swept across Afghanistan, with those freed thought to include hardcore ISIS commanders, trainers and bomb makers.

“They were very trained people and they are now organizing themselves,” the Taliban leaders said.

Around 1,500 Americans remained in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, with just days left to complete the airlift. The U.S. has now evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 95,700 people since Aug. 14, according to a White House official.

After a chaotic start, the pace of evacuations has increased in recent days, but officials and U.S. allies have expressed skepticism that everyone seeking to leave will be out by the deadline.

Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, also denied media reports that there were only 36 hours until the end of Kabul evacuation operations. “We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.

But amid the growing security fears, some European countries have already signaled they are wrapping up.

“It is no longer safe to fly in or out of Kabul,” Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen was quoted as saying by the AP.

Denmark’s last flight has already departed, and Poland and Belgium have also announced the end of their evacuations. The Dutch government said it had been told by the U.S. to leave Thursday.

France said it would completely end its evacuations from the Afghan capital Friday night.

Andy Eckardt and Nancy Ing contributed.

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