At least 72 Afghans, including 28 Taliban members, and 13 United States service members have been killed in two explosions that took place outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday, Reuters reported.
The Afghan toll was given by health and Taliban officials. However, a Taliban spokesperson later denied that any of the insurgent group’s fighters had been killed.
The explosions also left 158 people injured, an unidentified Afghan official told CNN.
One blast happened near the airport’s entrance, while the second took place at a nearby hotel, Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby said, according to AP.
The attack came amid frantic efforts by western troops to evacuate people from Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover, with less than a week to go for the August 31 deadline of America’s withdrawal.
Terror group ISIS-K (Islamic State of Khorasan) has claimed responsibility for the airport attack, the BBC reported on Friday.
Eyewitnesses said on Friday that evacuation flights have resumed from the Kabul airport, reported AP. A large crowd could be seen gathered at the airport, the news agency said, citing footage from the local channel TOLO TV.
Meanwhile, United Kingdom Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that the evacuation mission will be over in a “matter of hours”, reported Sky News.
“We will process the people that we’ve brought with us, the 1,000 people approximately in the airfield now and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed,” Wallace said.
He said that it was sad that not everyone could get out. Wallace added he has allowed loosening of regulation to allow more people to be evacuated.
Meanwhile, the US forces in Kabul were on alert for more attacks even as they continued with the evacuation process.
General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said that the troops were on look out for possible rockets or car bombs targeting the airport, Reuters reported. Mckenzie said that the US troops were sharing some intelligence inputs with the Taliban, adding that he believed “some attacks have been thwarted by them.”
Several Afghans were still lining up to take flights out of the country. At least 5,000 of them were awaiting flights on Thursday and more joined in at the Kabul airport on Friday, according to AP.
“Believe me, I think that an explosion will happen any second or minute...God is my witness,” Ahmadullah Herawi, one of the Afghans at the airport, told AP. “But we have lots of challenges in our lives, that is why we took the risk to come here and we overcame fear.”
‘We will not forgive,’ says Joe Biden
United States President Joe Biden had a stern message for the attackers on Friday. “To those that carried out this attack, as well as anyone else who wishes America harm know this: we will not forgive,” he said, according to the BBC. “We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
Biden added that the US will not stop its evacuation mission in Afghanistan.
The Indian government offered its condolences to the families of those killed in the attack. “Our thoughts and prayers also go out to the injured,” the Ministry of External Affairs said.
It added: “Today’s [Thursday’s] attacks reinforce the need for the world to stand unitedly against terrorism and all those who provide sanctuaries to terrorists.”
The United Kingdom, Australia and Canada also expressed grief over the deaths in the attack.
“I utterly condemn the barbaric terrorist attack in Kabul in which Afghans and members of the US military lost their lives,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted on Thursday.
He added: “The threat of terrorist attack is one of the constraints we’ve been operating under, but our evacuation effort continues with over 12,000 extracted so far.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was deeply saddened by the deaths of Afghans and US troops. “We mourn your tragic loss,” he said. “Australia condemns these heinous and barbaric attacks.”
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “Our hearts break for the people of Afghanistan and the loved ones of the victims, including the brave women and men of our Allies. We will continue working with our partners to support Afghans and resettle refugees in Canada.”