KABUL (Agencies): The death toll at the Kabul airport surged to 90 on Friday, with the number of the injured also increasing to 150 after two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked Afghans at the airlift desperate to flee the country.
At least 77 Afghans and 13 US military soldiers were killed in the attacks on Thursday, confirmed international media reports, while scores were injured in the attack, with some in critical condition.
A day earlier, the US and other Western countries had warned of a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport, cautioning citizens to stay away from there.
However, that advice was left unheeded by thousands of Afghans who had thronged the airlift at the time of the attacks, desperate to flee the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
Pentagon confirms 13 American troops killed
The US Defense Department said Thursday that the number of American troops killed in the suicide bombings at Kabul airport rose by one to 13, and the number of wounded was 18, reported AFP.
“A thirteenth US service member has died from his wounds suffered as a result of the attack on Abbey Gate,” Central Command spokesman Captain Bill Urban said in a statement.
Ten of those killed and several wounded were US Marines, Marine Corps spokesman Major Jim Stenger said in a statement.
“We mourn the loss of these Marines and pray for their families,” Stenger said.
“Our Marines will continue the mission, carrying on our Corps´ legacy of always standing ready to meet the challenges of every extraordinary task our Nation requires,” he said.
The military has yet to provide any details of what occurred in the attack, which was carried out by the Afghanistan branch of the Daesh group.
The outer perimeter of access to the airport is controlled by the Taliban, and the airport gates are managed under heavy security by the Marines and other troops.
They have been in charge of allowing passage of into the airport of thousands of people each day seeking to flee the country after the Taliban seized control of the government.
That requires them to examine the evacuees for their travel papers and security risks, General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of the US Central Command, said Thursday.
“We have to check people before they get onto the airfield,” McKenzie said.
“We can´t do that with standoff. You ultimately have to get very close to that person,” he said.
Daesh, an enemy of the Taliban as well as the West, said one of its suicide bombers targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army”.
US on alert for more attacks
General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said US commanders were on alert for more attacks by Daesh, including possibly rockets or vehicle-borne bombs targeting the airport.
“We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,” he said, adding that some intelligence was being shared with the Taliban and that he believed “some attacks have been thwarted by them.”
US forces are racing to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by an Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden, who says 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 said he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike a Daesh affiliate that claimed the 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.
Video taken in the aftermath of the attack showed corpses in a sewage canal by the airport fence, some being fished out and laid in heaps while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.
“I saw bodies and body parts flying in the air like a tornado blowing plastic bags,” said one Afghan witness. “That little water flowing in the sewage canal had turned into blood.”
Zubair, a 24 year-old civil engineer, said he was close to a suicide bomber who detonated explosives.
“Men, women and children were screaming. I saw many injured people – men, women and children – being loaded into private vehicles and taken toward the hospitals,” he said.
A US Central Command spokesperson said 18 soldiers injured in the attack were “in the process of being aeromedically evacuated from Afghanistan on specially equipped C-17s with embarked surgical units”.
A Taliban official said at least 28 members of the group were killed in the attack.
“We have lost more people than the Americans in the airport blast,” he said, adding the Taliban was “not responsible for the chaotic evacuation plan prepared by foreign nations”.
Western countries fear that the Taliban, who once sheltered Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, will allow Afghanistan to turn again into a haven for militants. The Taliban say they will not let the country be used by terrorists.
The US would press on with evacuations despite the threat of further attacks, McKenzie said, noting that there were still around 1,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan.
The pace of evacuation flights had accelerated on Friday and American passport holders had been allowed to enter the airport compound, said a Western security official stationed inside the airport.
In the past 12 days, Western countries have evacuated nearly 100,000 people. But they acknowledge that thousands will be left behind when the last US troops leave at the end of the month.
Several Western countries said the mass airlift of civilians was coming to an end and announced their last remaining troops had left the country.
The American casualties in Thursday’s attack were believed to be the most US troops killed in Afghanistan in a single incident since 30 personnel died when a helicopter was shot down in 2011.
The US 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.
Pakistan condemns attack
Pakistan strongly condemned the heinous terrorist attack at Kabul airport and extended its condolences to the bereaved families, according to a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Pakistan strongly condemns the heinous terrorist attack at Kabul airport, which reportedly resulted in loss of precious lives, including children. We condemn terrorism in all forms and manifestations, convey our condolences to bereaved families and pray for early recovery of the injured,” the Foreign Office said.