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‘Suicide bomb’ kills 13 at Kabul airport

A suicide bomber has attacked Kabul airport, just hours after officials warned of an ‘imminent’ ISIS bomb threat, killing at least 13 people and injuring at least three US troops.

The blast was outside The Baron Hotel, at the Abbey Gate of Kabul airport. Westerners were staying in the hotel before their evacuation flights.

At least three US troops were injured. It’s unclear if any Americans were killed in the explosion but harrowing scenes show bloodied Afghans being removed from the scene on wheelchairs. One witness reported that a baby was among those killed.

The attack came just hours after officials were warned that ISIS was plotting something against the crowd of Western citizens and allies at the airport.

Now, as many as 1,500 Americans remain stranded in Afghanistan with increasingly bleak options;

  • Hide in your homes and risk missing the chance to be flown out on one of the last evacuation flights
  • Make a run for the Pakistan border, which is now overrun with Afghans and nearly 200 miles away
  • Go to the airport, where there is a risk being blown up, shot at or getting lost in the crowd

Despite the escalating chaos, the US’s top diplomat made the astonishing claim on Thursday morning, before the explosion, that it was ‘relatively safe’ on the ground and people should still be able to make their way there.

Now, Americans in Afghanistan are being told not to go to the airport.

The Pentagon on Thursday denied fears that the US was going to withdraw within 36 hours, but Press Secretary John Kirby offered no date for when troops would leave, saying only they would stay in Afghanistan until the ‘end of the mission’.

It offers little hope to the Americans on the ground who are stuck behind Taliban lines, unable to get to the airport.

Overnight, 5,100 people were flown out of Kabul on US military planes. Another 8,300 were saved by coalition flights. The total – 13,400 – was drastically less than the 19,000 rescued in the previous 24 hours.

Ross Wilson, the Acting US Ambassador in Afghanistan, said on Thursday his office was making ‘phone calls’ but that many Americans didn’t leave when they had the chance and are now on their own.

‘We have through the State Department been placing phone calls to virtually all those who have registered with us to find out are they still in Afghanistan, are they interested in leaving Afghanistan, do they need help.

‘People chose not to leave – that’s their business, that’s their right. We regret now that many may find themselves in a position that they would rather not be in,’ he told CBS This Morning on Thursday.

But as many as 1,000 remain in the country. Blinken said those people haven’t asked for the government’s help to escape. Ross Wilson, Acting Ambassador to Afghanistan, said on Thursday morning that many people didn’t leave when they had the chance and now ‘find themselves in position that they would rather not be in’.

He said his office was calling everyone on the official list but didn’t indicate what else was being done.

There are hundreds of Afghans gathered at the airport along with foreign nationals and the size of the crowd makes it a ripe target for the Taliban.

Britain is now telling its citizens that anyone who hasn’t yet been able to get out should make a run for the border and seek refuge in Pakistan.

Hameed Ullah, the head of the Coronavirus Health team at the Chaman border, said 18,000 people a day were crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan – 6,000 more than usual.

The US has not told its citizens to go to the border and State Department officials do not even know how many remain in the country, wanting to leave.

Biden has promised to get every American out by August 31 but it is becoming increasingly unlikely with hundreds still scattered around the country. He is due to host a conference call with governors on Thursday at 3pm to determine where Afghan refugees will be housed.

On Thursday morning, Ross Wilson, the Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Kabul, said the State Department has tried contacting all of the people they know to be still in Afghanistan for months and that many chose to stay behind.

‘We have through the State Department been placing phone calls to virtually all those who have registered with us to find out are they still in Afghanistan, are they interested in leaving Afghanistan, do they need help.

‘People chose not to leave – that’s their business, that’s their right. We regret now that many may find themselves in a position that they would rather not be in,’ he told CBS This Morning on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there were 500 Americans who  had made contact with the government asking for help to get out. He estimated there were another 1,000 who were somewhere in Afghanistan but hadn’t yet asked the government for help getting out.

CNN’s source said on Thursday that 200 had been evacuated overnight, bringing the total 500 down significantly.

The source estimated that of the 500 Blinken was talking about, there are now only 150 waiting to be evacuated.

It remains unclear if any more citizens have been able to get in touch with the State Department since Blinken spoke.

There are still 1,800 Afghans who worked at the US Embassy in Kabul and are waiting to be flown out but the mission is winding down on Friday, the source said.

‘American citizens are still trickling in but their priority has shifted to local staff,’ the source said.

The United States, Britain and Australia told their citizens in the early hours of Thursday to clear the airport over fears of a deadly car bomb blast. The US said that citizens outside three gates, in particular, should ‘leave immediately’, while Britain and Australia told anyone near the airport to clear the area entirely.

Among those still stranded are dozens of students from a San Diego school, who flew to Afghanistan with relatives to visit family and got stuck.

They did not all travel together but went with their families in smaller groups. One of the groups has now returned to the US, leaving 19 still stuck in Kabul.

The bomb threat on Wednesday was given amid fears extremist group ISIS-K, the Islamic State branch based in Afghanistan, was plotting an attack with multiple car bombs by deploying recently-freed prisoners.

It comes as the number of evacuation flights are falling rapidly after Joe Biden held firm to the August 31 deadline, meaning that allied countries have started to shutdown their operations – or finished already.

France said it will stop flying to Kabul on Friday, Poland has already left and Holland is expected to finish today.

Meanwhile, Britain could stop flying by tonight because the U.S. is cutting short the evacuation operation three days before the deadline to ensure a safe exit.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Wednesday there were up to 1,500 Americans still trapped in Afghanistan and that 500 had been in touch with the government to ask for help getting to the airport.

Since then, 350 have been evacuated, according to CNN, which leaves just 150 of the 500 the government knows about still waiting to be rescued.

British armed forces minister James Heappey this morning warned there is ‘very credible reporting’ of an ‘imminent and ‘severe’ threat to the airport.

The former British Army Major told LBC radio he had been given ‘lines today for what might happen if the attack happened while I was doing this media round.’

Heappey added: ‘I don’t think everybody should be surprised by this, Daesh, or Islamic State, are guilty of all sorts of evil.

‘But the opportunism of wanting to target a major international humanitarian mission is just utterly deplorable but sadly true to form for an organization as barbarous as Daesh.’

The State Department tweeted last night: ‘Due to threats outside the Kabul airport, US citizens should avoid travelling to the airport and avoid airport gates unless you receive instructions to do so.

‘Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately.’

The order to leave the gates was issued at 3:30 am local time in Kabul on Thursday morning.

It came as a 345-seat evacuation flight organized by a Washington DC-based philanthropist left Kabul Airport almost empty because its intended passengers could not get past the Taliban.

The jet – laid on by George Abi-Habib, co-founder of development firm Sayara International, had just 50 of passengers in its cabin, amid fears terrorists are now plotting a car bomb attack against Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Airport.

One of the passengers had to crawl through a sewage pipe just to make it into the airport, he told The Wall Street Journal.

‘We can’t expect everyone to crawl through a sewer pipe to safety,’ Abi-Habib said.

Another of Abi-Habib’s 240-seat charter flights heading to Ukraine left with 70 seats empty after U.S. soldiers wouldn’t let passengers through to board the aircraft.

‘It’s total chaos,’ said Warren Binford, a law professor at the University of Colorado who has been working on evacuation efforts.

‘What’s happening is that we’re seeing a massive underground railroad operation where, instead of running for decades, it’s literally running for a matter of hours, or days.’

CNN reported Thursday that they believe ISIS-K, which is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, wants to create mayhem at the airport and has intelligence streams suggesting it is capable and planning to carry out multiple attacks.

Analysts told on Wednesday night that the intelligence likely came from intercepted calls, amid fears recently-freed prisoners could mount the attacks.

Concerns increased after more than 100 prison inmates loyal to the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan escaped from two prisons near Kabul as the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital.

Taliban fighters stormed the jails at Bagram and Pul-e-Charkhi, both to the east of Kabul, shortly before the capital city fell.

CNN reported that hundreds of ISIS-K fighters are believed to have been freed.

Fears are mounting that the Islamic State affiliate in the region, ISIS-K, could try and launch an attack on the crowds masses outside the airport.

A BBC reporter said there were reports of a potential car bomb attack.

Joe Biden on Tuesday warned that ISIS-K were believed to be attempting to target departing jets, as he explained why it was unlikely that U.S. forces will remain in the area beyond August 31.

Up to 1,500 Americans are still trapped in Afghanistan and the U.S. is still relying on the Taliban to allow safe passage to Kabul airport with just six days before the deadline, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a press conference on Wednesday.

Blinken gave his first briefing on the airlift operation and the bid to get all citizens and Afghan allies out amid reports the CIA has joined U.S. troops in helicopter rescue missions outside the airport perimeter.

Thousands of people are still trying to leave Afghanistan as U.S. troops start leaving and evacuation flights begin to wrap up, but are being stopped and beaten by insurgents on their way.

Among those left are 23 school children from California Cajon Valley Union School District and 16 parents who visited the war zone on a summer trip to see extended family and haven’t been able to leave.

Erik Prince, founder of controversial private military firm Blackwater, was selling seats on a plane out of Afghanistan for $6,500.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, on Wednesday could barely contain her disgust at what she described as profiteering from ‘pain and agony’. She said Prince did not have a soul.

Blinken blamed Americans still on the ground for not leaving fast enough after first being warned earlier this year to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, but said there would be ‘no deadline’ in helping those who still want to leave.

He spoke as a CIA officer told DailyMail.com that American civilians and Afghan allies have just 72 hours before evacuations end and Biden cracked a joke about the evacuation crisis at a cybersecurity summit.

NBC reporter Peter Alexander asked the president what he would do if there were Americans trapped in Afghanistan after August 31.

The microphone was cut before Biden could reply, but he cracked a smile and said: ‘You’ll be the first person I call.’

Blinken said the U.S. has been in ‘direct contact’ with roughly 500 confirmed U.S. citizens and ‘provided specific instructions for how to get to the airport safely.’

The State Department said there are roughly 1,000 other people whose status is still being established.

‘We’re aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day,’ he said of those 1,000 people, adding they’re looking ‘to determine whether they still want to leave and to get them the most up-to-date information and instructions for them on how to do so.’

‘Some may no longer be in the country. Some may have claimed to be Americans but turn out not to be. Some may choose to stay,’ Blinken said

‘We’ll continue to try and identify the status and plans of these people in the coming days.’

A short time later a journalist covering Afghanistan wrote on Twitter that the Taliban blocked all roads leading to Kabul airport.

Only Afghans ‘accompanied by foreigners’ are reportedly allowed through.

‘Taliban refused to let a friend, a dual Afghan-Australian citizen, from entering airport today,’ Frud Bezhan wrote.