Afghanistan updates: At least 12 US service members among those killed outside Kabul airport

Written by on August 26, 2021

Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s government’s collapsed and the Taliban seized control, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.

Approximately 95,700 people have been evacuated since the effort began on Aug. 14, the White House said Thursday, while the Pentagon said the military will keep the evacuation mission going until the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.

President Joe Biden sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House last week, the president’s first interview since the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Biden has also addressed the nation several times since.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:


Aug 26, 3:52 pm
‘Working assumption’ that bomber detonated when being checked by Americans: Pentagon

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said at a Pentagon briefing that it was his “working assumption” that a suicide bomber was going through the Abbey Gate — being searched and checked by U.S. service members — when he detonated his vest.

He said the military thought there was just one suicide bomber at the Abbey Gate and that they didn’t know if it was a man or woman. He said he didn’t know the size of the bomb.

They also didn’t “know much” about the second bomb, which went off in the vicinity of the Baron Hotel.

No bomber actually got onto airport grounds, McKenzie said.

“I know this: he did not get inside — he did not get on the installation,” McKenzie said of the Abbey Gate bomber. “It was at the interface point where they try to come in where this attack occurred. And we just don’t know more right now. We’re gathering that information. As you will understand, we’re investigating that.”

-ABC News’ Ben Gittleson

Aug 26, 3:51 pm
ISIS-K claims responsibility for attacks

The Islamic State has claimed credit for the attacks near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, confirming a suicide bombing.

According to a translation from SITE intelligence group, the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency issued a report on the attack and provided a photo of the bomber.

Their message said the Khorasan Province (ISKP) fighter overcame all security fortifications and reached a distance of “no more than five meters from the American forces.” The fighter detonated his explosive belt, killing 60 and wounding over 100 others, the militant group wrote, citing “military sources,” according to SITE.

-ABC News’ Cindy Smith

Aug 26, 3:35 pm
‘Extremely real’ threat of more attacks

Asked about the ongoing threat of ISIS, as officials believed the two suicide bombers in Kabul on Thursday are affiliated with the terror group, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon it’s one that is “extremely real.”

“We believe it is their desire to continue those attacks, and we expect those attacks to continue,” he said via a videoconference.

He said the U.S. is doing everything it can to prepare for those attacks including reaching out to the Taliban, “who are actually providing the outer security cordon around the airfield, to make sure they know what we expect them to do to protect us.”

McKenzie reiterated that despite the attack, evacuations have continued on the airfield.

“The plan is designed to operate while under stress and under attack, and we will continue to do that,” he said.

The highest-ranking commander in the Middle East was also asked if the U.S. will go after the attackers.

“Yes, if we can find who’s associated with this, we will go after them,” he said. “We’ve been clear all along that we’re going to retain the right to operate against ISIS in Afghanistan. And we’re working very hard right now to determine attribution, to determine who is associated with this cowardly attack, and we’re prepared to take action against them.”

Aug 26, 3:24 pm
Evacuations to continue despite Kabul airport attack: Pentagon 

Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command and highest-ranking military official in the Middle East, said evacuations will continue “at best speed” despite the attack in Kabul that has resulted in 27 American casualties, including 12 killed and 15 wounded.

“Let me be clear: While we’re saddened by the life of loss, both U.S. and Afghan, we’ll continue to execute the mission,” McKenzie said via a videoconference. “Our mission is to evacuate U.S. citizens, third-country nationals, Special Immigrant Visa holders, U.S. Embassy staff and Afghans at risk.”

“As of today, we have approximately 5,000 evacuees on a ramp at the Kabul airport”

He said as of Thursday, there are 5,000 evacuees at the airport in Kabul awaiting airlift.

“We believe that there are about a thousand, probably a little more than a thousand American citizens left in Afghanistan at this point,” he said.

Aug 26, 3:15 pm
12 US service members killed, 15 others wounded: Pentagon 

Twelve U.S. service members were killed by two suicide bombers believed to have been ISIS fighters in Kabul on Thursday, U.S. officials confirmed at a Pentagon briefing.

“It’s a hard day today,” said Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command and the highest-ranking official in the Middle East, speaking via videoconference.

“As you know, two suicide bombers assessed to have been ISIS fighters detonated in the vicinity of the Abbey Gate and the Baron Hotel. It was followed by a number of ISIS gunmen who opened fire,” he said.

“We know that 12 U.S. service members have been killed in the attack and 15 more have been injured. A number of Afghan civilians were injured,” he said.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby in an earlier statement called the situation a “complex attack” with one explosion at the Abbey Gate outside Hamid Karzai International Airport causing “a number of US and civilian casualties” and another explosion near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from the Abbey Gate.

Aug 26, 2:06 pm
US Marines stationed close to crowds at site of Kabul airport attack

As the Pentagon confirmed that “a number of U.S. service members” were killed in the “complex attack” in Kabul, Senior Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell recalled reporting from the Abbey Gate on Wednesday right alongside U.S. Marines working to control the crowds desperate to get inside.

“This almost defies words,” Pannell said of the attack. “It’s bewildering. It’s horrifying. It was already a very distressing scene down at the airport yesterday.”

Pannell described seeing thousands of people knee-dip in sewage water outside the airport. He said the evacuation operation at the Abbey Gate “relied on the bravery of individuals, of servicemen, women, going to the very front lines, going out, grabbing people who were eligible and pulling them in.”

“Anyone who got into that crowd and detonated that device was sure to carry out a mass casualty event,” he added.

Pannell pushed back against a statement from the Taliban suggesting U.S. forces securing the area were to blame for the attack.

“That’s totally untrue,” he said. “This bomb happened right outside the gate. The onus also depends on the Taliban for not controlling the crowds, not allowing people through, for creating this climate of fear and dread.”

Aug 26, 1:18 pm
Pentagon confirms ‘number of’ US service members killed

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby has confirmed in a statement that “a number of U.S. service members were killed in today’s complex attack at Kabul airport.”

“A number of others are being treated for wounds. We also know a number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack,” he said.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to loved ones and teammates of those killed and injured,” Kirby’s statement read.

An American service member hasn’t been killed in Afghanistan since Feb. 2020.

Aug 26, 12:50 pm
Taliban condemn attack in statement

A Taliban spokesman has released a statement condemning the attack in Kabul and saying that 13 people were killed and 52 were wounded, citing reports.

“I confirm two explosions in the assembly of people in the area managed by US forces have occurred. Initial reports say, 13 persons have been killed and 52 wounded. We strongly condemn this gruesome incident and will take every step to bring the culprits to justice,” the Taliban spokesperson said.

While it’s still unclear who is responsible for the attack, President Biden has warned for days of a security threat from ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan whom he called “the sworn enemy of the Taliban.”

Aug 26, 12:20 pm
Biden, top officials monitor Kabul attack in Situation Room

President Biden monitored the Kabul attack in the White House Situation Room with his national security team, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, a White House official confirmed to ABC News.

Biden was already scheduled to meet with his national security team at 9:15 a.m. for an update on Afghanistan before the Pentagon confirmed an explosion outside the airport in Kabul in a tweet, prompting the delay of a 10:30 a.m. Pentagon briefing.

Vice President Kamala Harris, traveling from Vietnam back to Washington, joined the national security team meeting via video teleconference.

Biden’s 11:30 a.m. bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also has been postponed. A virtual meeting with a bipartisan group of governors who have volunteered to temporarily house or help vulnerable Afghans at 3 p.m. has been canceled.

Although it’s not clear who carried out the attack, it comes two days after Biden, in remarks from the White House on Tuesday, warned of threats from a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.

“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,” he said.

The Pentagon on Thursday called the situation a “complex attack” with one explosion at the Abbey Gate outside Hamid Karzai International Airport causing “a number of US and civilian casualties” and another explosion near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from the Abbey Gate.

At least 60 have been wounded in the attack, including at least three service members, according to Kabul Emergency Hospital and a U.S. official.

Aug 26, 11:46 am
Images show wounded, devastation after explosions near Kabul airport

Some of the first photos of the scene of the explosions in Kabul — one which occurred at or near the Baron Hotel and the other at the Abbey Gate outside Hamid Karzai International Airport — show bloody and wounded people evacuating the area.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed there were “a number of US and Afghan civilian casualties.”

Kabul Emergency Hospital told ABC News in a statement, “Around 60 patients wounded in airport attack have arrived at our EMERGENCY NGO’s Kabul Surgical Centre so far.”

Smoke leftover from the blasts and gunfire was seen rising over the airport on Thursday.

Aug 26, 11:06 am
‘Complex attack,’ second explosion at hotel near airport: Pentagon

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed there was a second explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate, after earlier confirming an explosion outside the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

“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. We will continue to update,” he said in a tweet.

The Turkish Defense Ministry, which has had forces helping to secure the airport, also tweeted that two explosions had occurred.

“There were two explosions outside of Kabul Airport. There is no damage or casualty in our unit,” it said, translated from Turkish.

Aug 26, 10:44 am
At least 3 US service members wounded in airport attack: Official

A U.S. official said that at least three U.S. military service members have been wounded in the explosion at the Abbey Gate outside Hamid Karzai International Airport. The official did not know the extent of the injuries. U.S. troops have been stationed near large crowds trying to get inside.

The development comes as the U.S. Embassy in Kabul sent another security alert to Americans, warning, “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. U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” it said.

The Pentagon has delayed a briefing that was scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz said the explosion at the airport coming days before U.S. forces are set to leave the country has made for, “truly, a nightmare scenario.”

Raddatz, who is in contact with Afghans on the ground, said the explosion “devastates” the evacuation process and described the tone in the country as people try to get out in the coming days as “absolute panic.”

“Now today, they’re facing, either a stampede, the Taliban or ISIS bombers — and that really is what it comes down to for all Afghans,” she said.

Aug 26, 10:15 am
Before explosion, acting US ambassador to Afghanistan spoke on GMA about ‘credible’ security threat

Speaking before the explosion outside the Kabul airport, acting U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson, on the ground in Kabul, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday that the threat that prompted the U.S. Embassy to warn citizens to leave the airport on Wednesday was “clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling.”

“Being part of these huge crowds that remain around the gates and entrances to the airport is dangerous,” he said, adding the U.S. is working on “other ways on an individualized basis to assist them in getting to the airport in a safe and secure manner.”

“We will do as much as we possibly can, to get as many out as we possibly can for as long as we possibly can, while there is sufficient security that’s provided for us, and no less important, for the travelers themselves, provided by U.S. military forces,” Wilson said.

While the U.S. works to get as many Afghan allies and third-country nationals out of Afghanistan ahead of next Tuesday’s deadline, Wilson acknowledged that the “primary focus” is to evacuate American citizens and said some hopeful evacuees would be left behind.

“There undoubtedly will be people in this country who would like to get out who will be unable to,” he said, adding that the U.S. is talking with the Taliban on how to continue safe evacuations when troops are gone.

Aug 26, 10:05 am
Biden briefed on explosion outside airport in Kabul

A U.S. official confirms the explosion was at Abbey Gate — one of the main entrances to the airport — and that they are assessing casualty numbers right now.

A White House official told ABC News that Biden has been briefed on the situation.

The explosion outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul follows the U.S. Embassy in Kabul warning Americans on Wednesday night to leave the airport gates immediately due to a credible security threat.

Aug 26, 9:50 am
Explosion outside airport in Kabul: Pentagon

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed there was an explosion outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

“We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport.  Casualties are unclear at this time.  We will provide additional details when we can,” the tweet read.

U.S. officials had been warning of a credible security threat to the airport for several days.

Aug 26, 8:12 am
US, allies evacuate 13,400 people from Kabul in past 24 hours

The United States has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of some 95,700 people from Kabul since Aug. 14 when the Taliban closed in on Afghanistan’s capital, according to a White House official.

In a 24-hour period from Wednesday to Thursday, 17 U.S. military flights carried approximately 5,100 evacuees out of Kabul. Another 8,300 people were evacuated via 74 coalition aircraft. Since the end of July, approximately 101,300 people have been relocated from Kabul via U.S. military and coalition flights, the White House official said.

Aug 26, 6:31 am
‘Very credible reporting of an imminent attack” at Kabul airport, UK minister warns

U.K. Armed Forces Minister James Heappey warned Thursday morning that there was “very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack” at the main international airport in Kabul, possibly within hours.

“There is now very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack and hence why the Foreign Office advice was changed last night,” Heappey said in interviews with BBC News. “The credibility of the reporting has now reached the stage where we believe that there is a very imminent, highly lethal attack possible within Kabul.”

As thousands race to evacuate Taliban-ruled Afghanistan before the Aug. 31 deadline for the United States to totally withdraw its troops, Heappey acknowledged that people are “desperate” and “there is an appetite by many in the queue to take their chances, but the reporting of this threat is very credible indeed and there is a real imminence to it.”

“There is every chance that as further reporting comes in, we may be able to change the advice again and process people anew but there’s no guarantee of that,” he added.

When asked in an interview with Sky News whether an attack could occur in the next few hours, Heappey replied: “Yes.”

The U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office released new guidance on Wednesday night telling people not to travel to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

“There is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack,” the office said. “If you are in the area of the airport, move away to a safe location and await further advice.”

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a security alert warning of “security threats outside the gates of Kabul Airport” and advising Americans “to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates,” unless they “receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so.”

“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the embassy said.

Aug 25, 8:05 pm
US Embassy alert tells people to avoid airport, leave certain gates immediately

The U.S. embassy in Kabul issued another alert, but this one with an urgent warning.

“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” it said.

The alert says U.S. citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid the airport gates “unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so” — the same instructions they have given in recent days.

In a statement later Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson said, “As a general rule, we do not speak to intelligence, but this is a dynamic and volatile security situation on the ground. We take seriously the priority we attach to the safety and security of American citizens.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Reader's opinions

Leave a Reply

Current track