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Evacuations continue after Kabul airport attack

August 26, 2021

Multiple people have been killed in twin blasts at Kabul's airport. Despite warnings of a terror threat, thousands had flocked to the airport gates, desperate to leave the country.

Evacuees at Kabul airport
The warnings come as the US and allies try to complete evacuations by an August 31 deadlineImage: Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps/AP Photo/picture alliance

  • At least 60 civilians killed and 140 injured in twin blasts outside Kabul airport
  • US commander says 12 US troops, including Marines, killed by suicide bombings
  • Germany's last evacuation flight has left Afghanistan
  • Thousands of people have been crowding the airport gates, desperate to flee
  • Nearly 100,000 Afghans and foreigners have fled Afghanistan via the US-led airlift since the Taliban seized power on August 15

These live updates are now closed. For more Afghanistan coverage click here

'Islamic State' claims responsibility for attack, US vows to continue evacuation mission 

Terror group "Islamic State" (ISIS) has said in a statement that it was behind the deadly twin suicide bombings at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday afternoon.

US military officials also confirmed that "ISIS" was responsible for the attack.

General Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said the US airlift in Kabul will continue, adding that the two bombers were "assessed to have been ISIS fighters."

"We continue to execute our number one mission, which is to get as many evacuees and citizens out of Afghanistan," said General McKenzie.

"ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing the mission," he said, adding that US forces were "prepared and ready to defend against" further "ISIS" attacks. 

Dozens of civilians, 12 US troops killed in airport bombings

A senior US commander has confirmed that 12 American service members were killed in twin suicide bombings outside Kabul airport.

General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, told a news briefing at the Pentagon that 15 others were injured. The death toll makes it one of the deadliest incidents for American troops for the entire 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Medical staff bring an injured man to a hospital in an ambulance after two powerful explosions in Kabul.
Medical staff bring the injured to the hospital in Kabul ambulances.Image: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

There was no confirmed tally of Afghan civilian deaths, but video footage from the scene appears to show dozens of bodies in front of the airport gates. Thousands of people have been gathering outside the building in a desperate attempt to flee on an evacuation flight.

One blast hit the airport's Abbey Gate, while the other targeted a nearby hotel. McKenzie said the explosions were followed by a gunfight, and that efforts to evacuate about 1,000 US citizens estimated to still be in the country would continue.  

He added that the suicide bombers were believed to be from the Islamic State. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

'No security' where blasts took place, local tells DW

Kabul resident Abdul Matin Amiri told DW there was little security presence in the area where two explosions hit outside Kabul's airport.

The blasts struck on Thursday afternoon as thousands of people crowded around the airport's gates hoping to be evacuated.

"There was no security at all," Amiri said. "I got there with a lot of luggage and bags with me [so] it means everybody could go there easily [and] carry any kind of explosive."

He said the Taliban had been in the area on Wednesday and had "retrieved people from the scene and opened fire to the sky" but the presence of foreign forces was not immediately obvious.

Amiri reported that here were around 50-60,000 Afghans in the area, many of whom had camped there for several consecutive nights, despite warnings from several Western governments that a terror attack could be imminent. 

UK to continue evacuation mission after airport attack

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says his government will push ahead with its evacuation operation in Afghanistan following twin explosions at Kabul airport.

The prime minister chaired an emergency meeting on the situation in Afghanistan on Thursday afternoon.

"We are able to continue with the program in the way we have been running it, according to the timetable that we have got and that is what we are going to do," Johnson said, adding that the airlift would continue "going up until the last moment."

At least 13 people were killed and dozens more injured when twin blasts hit the gates of Kabul's airport, where crowds of Afghans had gathered in the hopes of making it onto an evacuation flight.

"There were always going to be vulnerabilities to terrorism and opportunistic terrorist attacks. We condemn them, I think they are despicable, but I am afraid they are something we had to prepare for," Johnson said.

The US and its allies have been ramping up a massive evacuation campaign ahead of a final withdrawal deadline on August 31.

All German troops have left Afghanistan, says defense minister

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer says the last of the German military aircraft and troops have arrived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, after flying out of Kabul.

The announcement came after twin blasts hit Kabul airport on Thursday afternoon, killing at least 13 people, including several US troops. 

Kramp-Karrenbauer said the explosions hit when the final German military flights had been loading, prompting the commander to launch an "emergency departure." Two German soldiers who were in the US-operated part of the airport at the time had to be left behind, but were later evacuated to Tashkent by an Airbus medevac plane. 

The minister said Germany had now concluded its evacuation mission in Afghanistan after flying out 5,347 people from more than 40 countries. More than 4,000 Afghans were among the evacuees.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said the attacks had made it clear that "an extension of the operation in Kabul was not possible. The security situation on the ground, and also the Taliban's decision not to tolerate an extension beyond Aug. 31, made it impossible.''

Germany's top diplomat to visit Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to travel to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan in the coming days for talks on the latest developments in Afghanistan, according to a foreign office letter seen by Reuters.

German troops stand on the runway in Tashkent as people disembark from a military plane
The last Bundeswehr aircraft left Afghanistan for Tashkent shortly after twin blasts hit Kabul's airport Image: Bundeswehr/dpa/picture alliance

The letter to parliament said the talks would focus on how the international community can handle the situation in Afghanistan and under which conditions agreements with a new government in Kabul might be possible.

Maas also plans to visit Turkey and Qatar.

US troops killed in Kabul blasts

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says US personnel are among those killed in twin bombings outside the Afghan capital's Hamid Karzai International Airport. He did not specify how many had died or which troops were involved.

"We can confirm that a number of US service members were killed in today's complex attack at Kabul airport," a Pentagon statement said. "A number of others are being treated for wounds. We also know that a number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack."

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and injured," the statement added.

US officials have said there are about 5,200 American troops providing security at the airport.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, which took place as thousands of people crowded at the complex hoping to get a place on an evacuation flight. US officials have pointed the finger at ISIS-Khorosan, the Afghan affiliate of the so-called Islamic State.

The first blast hit the airport's Abbey Gate, while the second struck the nearby Baron Hotel.

A map showing the site of the two blasts outside Kabul airport

Merkel pledges help after 'absolutely despicable' attacks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the suspected suicide bombings outside Kabul airport as "an absolutely despicable attack in a very tense situation."

The chancellor told a press conference in Berlin that Germany will continue to help people who want to leave Afghanistan, even after the August 31 withdrawal deadline. The last German evacuation flights left Kabul earlier on Thursday afternoon, wrapping up an 11-day airlift. 

"We do not know all the details yet, but the terrorists were targeting people waiting outside the airport gates, hoping to leave," Merkel said. 

The Taliban says the two explosions killed at least 13 people and injured more than 50 others.

Security will be 'big test' for Taliban

Maintaining security over the next few days is going to be a big test for the Taliban, reporter Ali Latifi told DW from Kabul.

"It's a big test of the Taliban because how they tried to sell themselves was, 'if we join the government or take over the government, then security won't be an issue anymore'."

"Now we are seeing that obviously security is an issue and they weren't able to stop this happening either."

Latifi said the Taliban now had to address the situation. Latifi suspected that the attack was carried out by militants from an ISIS group, who are the "enemies of the Taliban."

He said that it was shopkeepers and local people who were directing traffic and not the Taliban.

Taliban confirm over 50 injured

The suspected suicide bombing at Kabul airport injured at least 52 people, the Taliban told local television station TOLONews.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said there were also fatalities but the numbers were still unclear.

Mujahid said the Taliban "strongly condemns" the attack.

The NGO Emergency previously reported at least six people had arrived dead at the hospital in Kabul.

The UN Chief Antonio Guterres condemned the "terrorist attack which killed, injured a number of civilians."

US officials said they were concerned there could be more attacks at Kabul airport following the twin blasts.

Smoke is seen at Kabul airport
The twin blasts hit near the airport's Abbey GateImage: Xinhua/imago images

Next hours in Kabul will be 'extremely risky,' France warns 

French President Emmanuel Macron has told a news conference that "the situation has seriously deteriorated'' near the Kabul airport following "several explosions."

"We are facing an extremely tense situation that makes us coordinate obviously with our American allies and call for the utmost caution in a context we don't control,'' Macron said.

He added that France was still seeking to evacuate hundreds more people — including French nationals, Afghans in need of protection and people from allied countries. He said evacuations would continue "as long as the conditions will be met'' at the airport, but warned the situation there was becoming "extremely risky."

The twin bombings outside the capital's airport killed at least 13 people. US service members are believed to be among the injured.

The blasts struck as the US and its allies carry out an airlift that is due to be completed by August 31.

NATO, EU slam Kabul attacks

The head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has condemned the twin bombings at Kabul's airport as a "horrific terrorist attack" that targeted desperate Afghans seeking to flee the country in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

"My thoughts are with all those affected and their loved ones. Our priority remains to evacuate as many people to safety as quickly as possible,'' he said on Twitter.

Thousands of Afghans have been amassing at Kabul's airport in an attempt to flee the country after the Taliban's return to power. The US and its allies are wrapping up a massive evacuation mission that is due to end by August 31.  

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: "I strongly condemn the cowardly and inhuman attacks on Kabul airport. It is essential to do everything to ensure the safety of people at the airport. The international community must work closely together to avoid a resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan and beyond." 

European Council President Charles Michel said he was "very concerned" by the news of the explosions.

"My thoughts go out to the victims and their families. Securing safe passage to the airport remains vital. We need to ensure the current instability cannot give rise to a resurgence of terrorism," he wrote on Twitter.

Pentagon confirms two Kabul blasts, multiple casualties

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has confirmed at least two explosions outside Kabul's airport

One hit the airport's Abbey Gate, and was "the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties," Kirby said on Twitter.

A second blast struck nearby, at the Baron Hotel.

At least 13 people are believed to have died in the twin explosions, with 15 others injured.

Germany ends evacuations from Kabul

The last German military aircraft have left Kabul, wrapping up Germany's evacuations from Afghanistan, according to Germany's dpa news agency and security officials cited by Reuters.

The planes took off from the Afghan capital shortly after an explosion outside the city's airport. Germany's armed forces said no German soldiers were injured in the blast. 

Earlier Thursday, the Bundeswehr said it had evacuated more than 5,200 people from Kabul, including 4,200 Afghans, 505 Germans and people from more than 40 other countries.

US troops reportedly among those injured in blast 

Up to three US service personnel may have been injured in an explosion outside Kabul's airport, according to an official cited by the Reuters news agency.

The official stressed the information was from an initial report and could change. He said there were multiple casualties, but could not elaborate on their nationalities or how many there were.

A White House official told Reuters that US President Joe Biden had been briefed about the situation.

Meanwhile, the British Defense Ministry said on Twitter it was "working urgently to establish what has happened in Kabul and its impact on the ongoing evacuation effort."

"Our primary concern remains the safety of our personnel, British citizens and the citizens of Afghanistan. We are in close contact with our U.S. and other NATO allies at an operational level on the immediate response to this incident," it added.

The US and its allies have been scrambling to evacuate their citizens and some Afghan nationals from Kabul before completing a full military withdrawal on August 31. Earlier Thursday, a number of Western countries had warned people to stay away from the airport, saying a potential suicide attack by Islamic States militants may be imminent. 

Merkel cancels Israel trip due to Afghanistan crisis

Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, has canceled her planned trip to Israel on August 28-30 due to the security situation in Afghanistan. 

It would have been her first trip to the country since Naftali Bennett succeeded Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. 

A government spokesperson said both sides had agreed to reschedule the visit at a later date. Merkel is stepping down after 16 years as chancellor following Germany's federal elections in September.

Pentagon confirms blast outside Kabul airport

Pentagon press spokesman John Kirby confirmed a blast outside the Kabul airport.

He wrote on Twitter, "Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can."


US and allied officials warned earlier that they had intelligence indicating suicide bombers were threatening to target the airport.

Dutch end evacuations at Kabul airport

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Dutch are halting evacuation flights, calling it "terrible news." He said the US had requested the Netherlands finish operations before US troops fold up and leave Kabul airport.

"The fact is, and it's bad news, that we can't take Dutch people and their families, or other people, for the moment," Rutte said.

Since Kabul fell to the Taliban, the Netherlands had evacuated 1,500 including Dutch nationals and Afghans who were eligible, including 118 who arrived at the airport by bus overnight.

Canada ends evacuations at Kabul airport

Canadian acting chief of defense staff, General Wayne Eyre, said Canada has ceased evacuations from Kabul airport. Eyre added the US requested other nations leave Kabul airport before the US winds down its operations there.

Eyre said, "We wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone who was so desperate to leave. That we could not is truly heartbreaking, but the circumstances on the ground rapidly deteriorated."

The Canadian military evacuated some 3,700 people since Kabul fell to the Taliban. 

Over 1,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada already. Canada has vowed to take in 20,000 refugees at present.

Nearly 100,000 people evacuated since August 14 — White House

The White House said 13, 400 people were airlifted from Afghanistan on Wednesday alone.

The US and its allies have been battling to evacuate those who are eligible, from the airport precinct.

Since August 14, the multinational effort has managed to airlift 95,700 people from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the US Air Force said more  than 14,500 evacuees have been taken to Ramstein Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The US airbase has become a hub for those who have managed to escape Afghanistan.

British PM says most of the eligible have been evacuated

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the vast majority of people who are eligible to go Britain have been evacuated.

Johnson said the Royal Air Force had flown around 15,000 people out of Kabul. "In the time we have left, which may be, as I'm sure everybody can appreciate, quite short, we'll do everything we can to get everybody else," Johnson said.

It would appear however that staff of an animal charity and dozens of cats and dogs are stuck in the crush to get into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Former British Royal Marine Paul Farthing, who runs the organization, appealed to the Taliban to allow his team to make it through to the airport.

He tweeted: "We have been here for 10 hours after being assured that we would have safe passage. Truly would like to go home now.'' Farthing has been trying to get his team out of the country for days.

What is the latest on the ground?

Amid increasing security warnings by Western governments, journalist Franz Marty told DW, "it's important to know that this is not new," noting that there have been similar reports in recent days. 

A source in contact with active Islamic State (IS) members said the group was seeking retribution against Afghans who were working with US forces, Marty said.

However, whether those threats will materialize or not remains unclear, he added. 

Still, people flocking the airport are terrified as they face a life-threatening situation. They are "between a rock and a hard place," Marty said. 

Meanwhile, the rest of Kabul is calm and quiet, but "what you don't see is, of course, all the people that stay at home, that have fear that the Taliban will do something," he added.

German airlift 'started too late and ends too early'

Lucas Wehner of the Sponsorship Network for Afghan employees, which supports Afghan staff who assisted the German armed forces, told DW the events at the airport were a "tragedy."

"We've heard of stories where our local staff have waited for days at the airport, and still haven't heard anything about whether they are on the list or not," he said.  

If Afghans who want to flee the Taliban cannot get out by August 31, they will likely try to cross the border to Pakistan or other neighboring countries, Wehner said.

"We've heard of situations where Taliban has already searched houses of our local staff... So, all of them are definitely afraid and are very desperate right now," he added. 

"History will show, and this evacuation operation definitely started too late and ends too early, and it's a huge shame for our country and the entire Western forces," Wehner said.

Germany will end Afghanistan evacuations on Thursday — media reports

The German military will halt airlift operations in Afghanistan on Thursday, according to local media reports.

The decision comes four days before the August 31 deadline for evacuations and a US troop withdrawal.

"The security situation at the Kabul airport has deteriorated further and the threat of a terror attack is becoming increasingly concrete," a spokesperson for the German Defense Ministry told DW.

The spokesperson refused to confirm the media reports about the end of the German evacuation operations, instead saying that the Bundeswehr continues to coordinate its planning and operations with its partners on the ground.

Empty planes being flown to Iran — media reports

Iranian media outlet Fars News Agency has reported that Afghan airline Kam Air has begun flying empty planes to Iranian airports.

Citing an aviation authority spokesperson the agency tweeted: "Following the escalation of clashes at Kabul Airport, the owner of the Afghan private airline Kam Air requested the transfer of a number of aircraft to Iranian airports. So far, three planes have landed at our airports."

Afghan evacuees arrive in South Korea

Around 400 evacuated Afghans have arrived in South Korea. Justice Minister Park Beom-kye said that many Koreans had received international aid after fleeing the conflict on the peninsula during the 1950s. 

"Now it is time for us to return the favour," he said in briefing at Incheon airport outside Seoul.

The South Korean government has begun a process to amend laws on immigration, allowing evacuated Afghans long term residency.

Afghans board a South Korea military plane in Kabul
Some 380 Afghans who worked for South Koreans in their war-ravaged nation and their family members board a South Korea military plane at Kabul airportImage: Yonhap/picture alliance

Crowds continue gathering at airport gates as deadline nears

Despite warnings of the possibility of terror attacks, thousands of people continue to gather at the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

A western diplomat told Reuters news agency that there's an estimated 1,500 US passport or visa holders trying to enter the airport.

Immigrant families from a San Diego neighborhood are among the crowds trying to get home. The 16 parents and two-dozen children had gone to visit relatives for the summer break. 

Their attempts to make it into the airport have been blocked by the thousands of others trying to get in.

Fearful Afghans and foreigners have surrounded the area for days, in the hope of fleeing the Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan earlier this month.

European countries end airlifts days before deadline

France has announced it will not be evacuating people after Friday night. Prime Minister Jean Castex told French radio station RTL that "from tomorrow evening onwards, we are not able to evacuate people from Kabul airport," because of the August 31 deadline.

France has evacuated more than 2000 people from Afghanistan.

The Czech Republic pulled the plug on its efforts last week.

The Netherlands announced in a letter to parliament that the last evacuation flight would be on Thursday. "The Netherlands has been informed by the United States that it has to depart today and will most likely perform the last flights later today," it said.

It was described as a painful moment because people eligible for evacuation to the Netherlands would be left behind.

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the final evacuation for his country took place on Wednesday night. De Croo said over 1,400 people had been flown out of Kabul and the situation had "seriously deteriorated over the course of the day."

Denmark said the evacuation of its embassy staff and their families has been completed. "It is no longer safe to fly from Kabul airport," Defence Minister Trine Bramsen told local news agency Ritzau on Wednesday.

Hungary's Defence Ministry said that two military passenger planes and all of its troops that had taken part in evacuations, had left Kabul. The aircraft along with all personnel have reportedly landed safely back home.

Poland announced on Wednesday it would be ending its evacuation operations, becoming one of the first Western countries to do so.

Taliban promise security at airport 

Taliban cadres have assured security outside Kabul airport, but intelligence reports of an imminent threat from Islamic State militants cannot be ignored, a NATO country diplomat in the Afghan capital said.

The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters news agency that Western forces "under no circumstances" want to be put in a position to "launch an offensive or defensive attack against anyone in Afghanistan."

"Our mandate is to ensure evacuations end on August 31," the official said.

A Taliban official also told Reuters that the groups guards are "also risking their lives at Kabul airport" and they too "face a threat from the 'Islamic State' group."

Hundreds of people gather near an evacuation control checkpoint outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport
The threat of terror attacks occurring at Kabul Airport are increasing, according to the US, Britain and AustraliaImage: AP Photo/picture alliance

US, allies tell citizens to avoid Kabul airport

The United States, Britain and Australia have all issued warnings over possible terror attacks at Kabul airport.

Britain and Australia cited the "high threat" of a terrorist attack while the US embassy in Kabul has advised Americans not to travel to the airport in the Afghan capital due to unspecified "security threats" outside the gates.

Citizens already at the airport's Abbey Gate, East Gate and North Gate have been advised to leave "immediately," the embassy said.

Australia's department of foreign affairs said there was an "ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack. Do not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport. If you're in the area of the airport, move to a safe location and await further advice."

Britain's Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said that there is credible intelligence of a plan to attack the airport.

Speaking to BBC Radio Heappey said: "I can't stress the desperation of the situation enough. The threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal. We wouldn't be saying this if we weren't genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target that is just unimaginable." 

The UK foreign office said those wishing to leave should consider other options: "If you can leave Afghanistan safely by other means, you should do so immediately."

Wednesday's key developments

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany hoped to end its evacuation process "in the next few days."

Poland, the Czech Republic and Belgium all announced the end of their evacuations.

Russia sent planes to evacuate more than 500 people.

Mexico, Uganda and Bulgaria all welcomed Afghan refugees on Tuesday.

nm,kb,jsi/wmr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)