Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said there had been an explosion outside of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, hours after the U.S. and U.K. governments warned their citizens to avoid traveling to the airport in Kabul because of the risk of attacks.
Two explosions outside Kabul’s international airport caused an unknown number of casualties and deaths less than a week before U.S. forces are due to depart.
“A number of US & civilian casualties” were caused by one blast outside the Abbey Gate used by people seeking to flee Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
He called it a “complex attack” and it came after U.S. and NATO officials warned their citizens to avoid heading toward the airport. Al Jazeera said at least 10 people were killed, citing a Taliban security official, and that Taliban guards were wounded in the blasts.
The blast occurred around the time President Joe Biden was scheduled to meet with his national security team about the situation in Afghanistan. He has since been briefed in the White House Situation Room, according to an official.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being kept updated on developments at Kabul’s airport and will host a meeting of the government’s emergency committee, later this afternoon, his office said in a statement.
“The explosion happened within a large crowd at the Abbey gate where people are being screened and processed by the Americans,” Mustafa Shah, an Afghan who was near the blast and took a wounded friend to the hospital, said in a phone call. Shah said he saw body parts on the ground and “10-15 people” who appeared to be dead.
Afghans and other people trying to flee Kabul have packed around the airport trying to get onto one of the many military flights leaving the country.
After the explosion, European military officials sent a message to citizens in the country saying, “Get away from the airport. Very, very, very dangerous situation. Go now!” according to Dina Haynes, a lawyer who got a client into the Kabul airport compound a few minutes before the explosion.
While it wasn’t immediately clear who or what caused the explosion, earlier in the day, American and NATO allies had warned their citizens against traveling to the airport because of the credible and imminent risk of attacks. Biden specifically cited Islamic State — Khorasan, an offshoot of the terrorist group, as a potential threat, this week.
“They’re real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration the longer we stay, starting with the acute and growing risk of an attack by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, which is a sworn enemy of the Taliban as well,” Biden said Tuesday. “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.”
Biden this week reiterated his plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, though he called on the Pentagon and State Department to come up with contingency plans in case they are needed.