US Troops, Afghans Killed by Explosion at Kabul Airport, Pentagon Says
Worsening security and the need to get all troops out is quickly closing the window to safely escape. ‘Today is likely last day,’ one memo advises.
Updated: 1:53 p.m.
In the final days of U.S. evacuation operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, an explosion has killed "a number" of U.S. troops and Afghans, the Pentagon said Thursday.
"A number of others are being treated for wounds," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said early Thursday afternoon Washington time.
These are the first U.S. troops killed by hostile activity in Afghanistan since February 2020.
Earlier in the day, Kirby had tweeted: "We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate."
In a Thursday security alert. U.S. Embassy Kabul said, "There has been a large explosion at the airport, and there are reports of gunfire. U.S. citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates at this time."
To date, U.S. military and chartered aircraft have evacuated 101,300 people from Kabul, and almost 96,000 of those were airlifted out in just the last 12 days. But the window to get out is quickly closing, with rising security threats from ISIS-K and embassies shutting down their evacuation operations in the next 24 to 48 hours.
Those security concerns caused the embassy to issue a security alert late Wednesday urging all Americans to immediately leave the area outside the gates.
“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the embassy warned.
In an interview that aired on Sky News before the explosion on Thursday, British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said there was a threat of an “imminent attack” to those at the gates of the airport.
“I can't stress the desperation of the situation enough,” Heappey said. “The threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal. We wouldn't be saying this if we weren't genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target that is just unimaginable."
For many Afghans, it’s also now become impossible to get through Taliban checkpoint and onto the airport.
In a memo obtained by Defense One, one of the many groups who have been working to get Afghan interpreters and their families out sent a notice to all they were trying to help that they had been notified that evacuation operations would likely end within the next day, and only American citizens would be allowed through the gates.
“Today is likely last day of NEO recovery at HKIA,” the memo reads, using the acronyms for non-combatant evacuation and Hamid Karzai International Airport.
But Kirby said that wasn’t so: “Evacuation operations in Kabul will not be wrapping up in 36 hours. We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission. #HKIA,” he tweeted Thursday at 8:59 a.m. Washington time.
On Wednesday, the Taliban directed that no more Afghans could leave the country.
The number of U.S. military aircraft taking off had dropped significantly as of Thursday: 17 Wednesday compared to 42 the day before. The number of people getting off the ground is also falling each day: 13,400 on Wednesday compared to 19,600 the day before.