An explosion went off on Thursday outside the Kabul airport, where thousands of people were gathered to try to flee Afghanistan on Western airlifts since the Taliban seized power earlier this month.
A US official told Fox News that the explosion near one of the airport gates in Kabul was a combined suicide bombing and firefight. The outlet said at least three US troops were injured and that there were also Afghan casualties.
A Taliban official told Reuters the bombing killed 13 people, including children. Numerous Taliban guards were among the injured, according to the official.
US President Joe Biden was briefed on the explosion, an official told CNN. The incident came shortly before Biden was set to meet Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Western nations had warned of a possible attack on Kabul’s airport in the waning days of the massive evacuation efforts.
Several countries urged people to avoid the airport, where an official said there was a threat of a suicide bombing. But just days — or even hours for some nations — before the evacuation effort ends, few appeared to heed the call.
— Barzan Sadiq (@BarzanSadiq) August 26, 2021
Over the last week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most searing images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the Taliban’s takeover, as flight after flight took off carrying those who fear a return to the militants’ brutal rule.
Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and begun to withdraw their soldiers and diplomats, signaling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. The Taliban have so far honored a pledge not to attack Western forces during the evacuation, but insist the foreign troops must be out by America’s self-imposed deadline of August 31.
Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from Afghanistan’s Islamic State group affiliate, which likely has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during their blitz across the country.
???? | NEW: People being taken to hospital after the Kabul explosion
— News For All (@NewsForAllUK) August 26, 2021
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told the BBC early Thursday there was “very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack” at the airport, possibly within “hours.” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said his country had received information from the US and other countries about the “threat of suicide attacks on the mass of people.”
The acting US ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was “clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling.” But in an interview with ABC News, he would not give details and did not say whether the threat remained.
Shortly after, the blast was reported.
Wilson also said there remain “safe ways” for Americans to reach the airport, but “there undoubtedly will be” Afghans who had worked with or for the US in Afghanistan who will not be able to get out before the evacuation ends.
Late Wednesday, the US Embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport, with Australia’s foreign minister saying there was a “very high threat of a terrorist attack.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid earlier denied that any attack was imminent.
Earlier Thursday, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at those gathered at one airport gate to try to drive the crowd away, as someone launched tear gas canisters elsewhere. While some fled, others just sat on the ground, covered their faces and waited in the noxious fumes.
The hardline Islamic group wrested back control of the country nearly 20 years after being ousted in a US-led invasion following the September 11 attacks, which al-Qaeda orchestrated while being sheltered by the group.