Four US Marines were killed and three wounded in Thursday's explosions at Kabul airport, US sources told Reuters, in what the Pentagon said was a "complex attack" during its evacuation mission from Afghanistan.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed multiple US fatalities but did not give details. The US service members were among those killed when at least two blasts tore through crowds thronging the airport gates.
A US official, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters four US personnel were killed and three wounded. Other US sources gave the same figures.
A Taliban official said at least 13 people, including children, were killed. Video from the scene showed what appeared to be dozens of bodies and wounded civilians.
A surgical hospital run by an Italian charity said it was treating more than 60 wounded.
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. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate. We will continue to update.Advertisement
— John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) August 26, 2021
US officials have said there are about 5,200 American troops providing security at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport. The attacks came after the United States and allies urged Afghans to leave the area around the airport because of a threat by Islamic State militants.
A source familiar with US congressional briefings said US officials strongly believe that the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan (Isis-K), after an old name for the region, was responsible. Isis-K is opposed by the United States and the Taliban.
Pentagon spokesman Mr Kirby said one blast occurred near the airport's Abbey Gate and the other close to the nearby Baron Hotel. Two US officials said at least one of the explosions appeared to be from a suicide bombing.
"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," Mr Kirby said on Twitter. "We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate."
The US Embassy in Kabul described "a large explosion" and said there had been reports of gunfire.
Explosion at Kabul airport.
I was on the phone to an Afghan outside the airport when he heard the explosion.
Praying that he gets away safely and we get his family safe passage out of this nightmare. https://t.co/hLZIURQozpAdvertisement
— Nus Ghani MP (@Nus_Ghani) August 26, 2021
A source who was in touch with a witness by text message quoted that witness as saying there appeared to have been two separate but simultaneous attacks, one by a suicide bomber near buses lined up outside Abbey Gate, where the blast was followed by small arms fire.
The second occurred at Baron Gate, named after the nearby Baron Hotel. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, quoted the witness as saying that children were among the casualties.
UK Tory MP Nus Ghani said she was on the phone to somebody outside Kabul airport when the explosion happened.
The MP tweeted: “Explosion at Kabul airport. I was on the phone to an Afghan outside the airport when he heard the explosion.
“Praying that he gets away safely and we get his family safe passage out of this nightmare.”
It comes after Irish citizens in Afghanistan were advised against coming to or remaining at the airport due to a “change in security status”.
Other Western nations earlier urged their citizens to leave the area amid a terror threat.
Pressure to complete the evacuations of thousands of foreigners and Afghans who helped Western countries during the 20-year war against the Taliban has intensified, with all US and allied troops due to leave the airport next week.
In an alert issued on Wednesday evening, the US embassy in Kabul advised citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately, citing unspecified “security threats”.
In a similar advisory, Britain told people in the airport area to move away and its armed forces minister, James Heappey, said intelligence of a possible suicide bomb attack by IS militants had become “much firmer”.
A Western diplomat in Kabul said areas outside the airport gates were “incredibly crowded” again despite the warnings.
“Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport, they face a threat too from the Islamic State group,” said a Taliban official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.