The reported toll from the bombing outside the Kabul airport rose sharply on Friday, with local health officials saying as many as 170 people were killed and at least 200 injured. Less than a day after the attack, crowds again tried to make their way to the airport on Friday, their desperation to flee the Taliban mingled with grief at the scale of the violence.
Health officials’ estimate of the number of casualties from the bombing, which excludes the 13 dead and 15 wounded of the US military, was supported by interviews with hospital officials. The hospital officials, who asked for anonymity because the Taliban had told them not to talk to the media, said some of the dead civilians were Afghan Americans with US citizenship.
The revised estimates made Thursday’s attack one of the deadliest in nearly two decades since the US-led invasion. US officials believe that “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday afternoon. “The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.”
At the airport and on the streets, the US military and the Taliban tried to exercise as much authority as possible. Militants with Kalashnikov rifles kept crowds further away from the airport entrance gates, guarding checkpoints with trucks and at least one Humvee parked on the road. The US military resumed evacuation flights and the White House said early Friday that 12,500 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan in the past 24 hours, despite the attacks.
The waiting crowd, many standing by buses with bags by their side, numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands from the previous days. It is estimated that there are still hundreds of thousands in the country desperate to escape the Taliban rule of Afghanistan, but very few appeared to make it to the airport gates on Friday.
The airport itself turned out to be largely, if not completely, closed. At the southern and eastern gates of the airport, Taliban guards told a reporter that no one was allowed near the airport and that all entrance gates were closed. About 5,400 people stayed inside while awaiting evacuation, the Pentagon said Friday.
The eerie scenes on Thursday, when children were among the dead in the crowd, illustrated the intense danger to those who braved the risky journey to the airport.
On Friday, the U.S. military revised its report of what happened at the airport the day before, with Joint Staff Major General William Taylor saying, “We do not believe there was a second explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, which was it was a suicide bomber.” But many witnesses reported hearing two explosions.
With four days left until an August 31 deadline for the United States’ withdrawal, a date President Biden has said he will keep despite domestic and international pressure to extend evacuation operations, Afghans are trying to find a way out of the country. find.
The task is getting more and more difficult.
Mr Biden vowed retaliation against ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of its loyalists in Afghanistan. But there was little information about the impact of the attacks on immediate rescue operations, which had gained momentum in recent days but were still not enough to provide an exit for anyone willing to leave.
A man who identified himself as Mohammad, from Khost, said he had hoped to fly Friday but felt “stuck”. He couldn’t get into the airport and said the Taliban were looking for former soldiers and media workers.
“I don’t feel safe here anymore,” he said.
General Taylor said about 111,000 people — U.S. citizens, Afghan allies and foreigners — have been evacuated from the country since Kabul fell to the Taliban this month.