At least two blasts rattled the area outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday, the Pentagon confirmed, just hours after Western governments had warned of a security threat there. While the numbers of injured or dead were still unconfirmed, reporters at a nearby emergency room said that at least 20 people had been brought to the site, and the Pentagon said there were a number of casualties.
Since the Taliban takeover of the city earlier this month, thousands of Afghan civilians and foreign citizens have gathered at the airport, which has a military and civilian side, desperate to be airlifted out of the country. But the area outside the airport had been the site of chaos at times throughout the week as people scrambled to make it toward evacuation flights.
“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,” John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a post on Twitter. “We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.”
The Abbey Gate is a main entryway to the international airport. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates, and urged Americans who were at the Abbey Gate, East Gate or North Gate entrances to leave immediately.
A U.S. military official said early reports indicated that the explosion was caused by at least one suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest. It was unclear how many people were injured or whether anyone was killed, but large crowds have been gathering at the gate in recent days.
A man who witnessed the attack told the Afghan broadcaster TOLO News that “dead bodies and wounded people were scattered everywhere after the explosion happened,” and added that he had seen foreign forces “on the ground.”
“It was a very powerful explosion — we carried out the casualties on carts, and look at my clothes covered in blood,” he added, pointing to bloodstains.
Elsewhere in the city, sporadic gunfire and alarms could be heard from the airport.
A senior U.S. official had warned on Wednesday night of a “specific” and “credible” threat by an affiliate of the Islamic State, the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, against the airport. Despite such a specific warning of an impending attack, it would still be very difficult to pick out a suicide bomber with a concealed explosive vest in a huge throng of people at the airport gate, military officials said.
Some countries had announced that their airlift evacuations were being halted after the concerns were raised about the security situation.