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Powerful explosions rattle area outside Kabul airport, claim over dozen civilian lives, 12 US service members

Smoke rises from an explosion outside the Kabul airport, Afghanistan, on August 26, 2021. (Photo by AP)

At least two explosions have rattled the area outside the airport in the Afghan capital amid the precarious security situation following the Taliban’s takeover of the country, killing more than a dozen people as well as 12 US servicemen, in what was described by the militant group as a “terrorist attack.”

The US military first reported the development on Thursday, saying a blast occurred outside the Kabul airport as the US-led airlift of thousands of foreign nationals and their families continued inside the compound.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed in a Twitter post that there had been an explosion near the Abbey Gate of the Kabul airport, which led to " a number of US and civilian casualties."

"We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate," Kirby added.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Taliban official said the explosion was a terrorist act, adding that a “suicide bomb” attack was the cause of the explosion outside the Kabul airport, which claimed the lives of at least 13 people, including children, and left an unspecified number of people injured.

Hours later, AFP quoted the Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, as saying that the death toll from two blasts outside Kabul's airport could be as high as 20.

"Our initial information shows between 13 and 20 killed and 52 wounded," the spokesman added.

Citing initial information, a US official told Reuters that as many as three US service members were among the injured, one in critical condition, and that the incident appeared to be a suicide bombing.

Hours later, General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, said in a video conference with reporters that as many as 12 US service members were killed in the Kabul bomb attacks and 15 more were injured.

Noting that the bomb attacks were carried out by two suicide bombers and were followed by gunfight, McKenzie added that there was a high risk of further attacks in Kabul.

Turkey, which has run Kabul’s international airport for the past six years, confirmed that some of its troops had been injured in the attack.

Several hours after the incident, Daesh terror group claimed responsibility for Kabul airport attack.

Taliban condemn blasts, say US forces responsible for security of area

Meanwhile, the Taliban condemned deadly blasts outside Kabul airport on Thursday, saying that security of the attack area is still a responsibility for the  US forces, who currently control that area.

"The Islamic Emirate strongly condemns the bombing targeting civilians at Kabul airport," a statement released by the group's spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, on Twitter said, adding that the attack “took place in an area where security is in the hands of US forces.”

The spokesman noted, “The Islamic Emirate is paying close attention to the security and protection of its people, and evil circles will be strictly stopped.”

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a member of the Taliban's cultural commission, told Turkey's Haberturk TV that the attack on Afghanistan's Kabul airport was an act of terrorism that should be condemned by the whole world, adding the presence of foreign forces in the country was to blame.

"As soon as the airport situation is figured out and the foreign forces leave, we will not have such attacks anymore. It is because of the presence of foreign forces that such attacks take place," he added.

UN chief condemns terrorist attack targeting Kabul airport

Later on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the "terrorist attack which killed and injured a number of civilians" near the airport in Afghanistan's capital Kabul.

"This incident underscores the volatility of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, but also strengthens our resolve as we continue to deliver urgent assistance across the country in support of the Afghan people," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

He added that "as far as we know at this moment" there are no casualties among UN staff.

Meanwhile, a source familiar with congressional briefings on Afghanistan was quoted by Reuters as saying on Thursday that U.S. officials strongly believe the Daesh-Khorasan group is behind the attack on Kabul's airport.

A second US government source familiar with intelligence activities said that while the US government is still investigating, the airport attack has "all the hallmarks" of an Daesh-K attack.

Following the attack, Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance should continue to evacuate as many vulnerable people as they can from Kabul despite what he branded a "horrific terrorist attack," Reuters reported.

"Our priority remains to evacuate as many people to safety as quickly as possible," he tweeted after deadly explosions.

The president of the European Commission, Charles Michel, echoed Stoltenberg's call for evacuations to continue, tweeting, “Securing safe passage to the airport remains vital.”

Western diplomat in Kabul earlier said areas outside the airport gates were "incredibly crowded" again despite the warnings of a potential attack.

US Army Major General William “Hank” Taylor, the deputy director of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, has estimated that there are more than 10,000 people at the Kabul airport waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan.

The Pentagon claimed it had evacuated some 19,000 people in the past 24 hours.

More than 80,000 people, foreigners and Afghans, have been evacuated since August 14, the day before the Taliban laid siege to Kabul.

The majority of the crowds who gathered at the airport where reportedly people who did not have the legal documents to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban have repeatedly called on people without travel documents to leave the airport and return home.

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