At least 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops were killed after two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday.
ISIS has claimed the responsibility of the attack and said one of its suicide bombers targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army”. U.S. officials also blamed the group, news agency Reuters reported.
Hours after the twin blasts, a third explosion was reported by news agency AFP while unconfirmed reports said there may have been more.
Kabul health officials were quoted as saying 60 civilians were killed. Video shot by Afghan journalists showed dozens of bodies strewn around a canal on the edge of the airport. At least two blasts rocked the area, witnesses said.
The American casualties, which increased to 13 from 12 later on Thursday according to U.S. officials, were believed to be the most U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in a single incident since 30 personnel died when a helicopter was shot down in August 2011.
The attack was carried out as U.S. forces raced to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan, after President Joe Biden said the United States had long ago achieved its original rationale for invading the country in 2001: to root out al Qaeda militants and prevent a repeat of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Biden vowed to go after the perpetrators of Thursday’s bombing and said he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike ISIS-K, the ISIS affiliate that claimed responsibility.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said during televised comments from the White House.
Corpses were in the canal by the airport fence, video from the scene showed, some being fished out and laid in heaps while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.
“For a moment I thought my eardrums were blasted and I lost my sense of hearing. I saw bodies and body parts flying in the air like a tornado blowing plastic bags. It is a carnage. I saw bodies, body parts, elders and injured men, women and children scattered,” said one Afghan who had been trying to reach the airport. “That little water flowing in the sewage canal had turned into blood.”
The U.S. deaths were the first in action in Afghanistan in 18 months, a fact likely to be cited by critics who accuse Biden of recklessly abandoning a stable and hard-won status quo by ordering an abrupt pullout.
General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said the United States would press on with evacuations, noting that there were still around 1,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan. But several Western countries said the mass airlift of civilians was coming to an end, likely to leave no way out for tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for the West through two decades of war.
McKenzie said U.S. commanders were bracing for more attacks by ISIS, including possibly rockets or vehicle-borne bombs targeting the airport.
“We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,” he said.