A wounded man being placed in an ambulance down the road from a blast outside the Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Thursday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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 30 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.

It was not immediately clear if evacuation flights had been halted after the explosion.

“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.”




Crowds gathered

trying to escape city

Crowds gathered

trying to escape city

Crowds gathered

trying to escape city

Crowds gathered

trying to escape city


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.

On Thursday, a day before the explosion, U.S. Marines who manned Abbey Gate had already been briefed on the potential of a suicide vest detonating near their position, but continued processing those trying to gain entry. U.S. military officials at the airport said that an attack, given the speed and confusion surrounding the entire evacuation, was never a matter of if, but when.

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.

Barat, who traveled to the airport with his cousin to show documents to foreign soldiers, was about 30 feet from the explosion and the soldiers at the time of one of the blasts. “The crowd was packed and people were pushing. I tripped and that’s when the explosion happened. I think four or five soldiers were hit,” he said. “We fell to the ground and the foreign soldiers started shooting. There were bodies everywhere, people were running.”

Fahim, a shopkeeper in Kunduz Province, came to Kabul two weeks ago in an attempt to leave the country, and was outside the airport when he witnessed what he described as “two big explosions” nearby and saw a number of people killed and wounded.

“People were fleeing and the Taliban forced us to leave the area. Americans were firing to disperse people,” he added. He described two American soldiers standing in front of an entrance to the airport complex, when the explosions took place, and said the entrance was then closed.

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.

Eric Schmitt, Megan Specia, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Jim Huylebroek, Matthieu Aikins, Victor J. Blue, Fatima Faizi, Najim Rahim and Sharif Hassan contributed reporting.

People waiting to gain access to the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Several nations announced on Thursday that they were halting their evacuations from the Kabul airport, as the window for airlifts appeared to narrow even while the Pentagon vowed to continue flights until the end of the month.

The decisions came after reports a day earlier of a security threat at the airport, days out from the Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On Thursday evening, the Pentagon said one explosion struck an area outside the airport, where large crowds had gathered in recent days, and a second at the nearby Baron Hotel. A spokesman, John F. Kirby, said the blasts were “a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties.”

Before the explosions, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands all said that they would no longer be able to facilitate airlifts from Hamid Karzai International Airport, which has both civilian and military sections.

But the Pentagon had vowed that the U.S. civilian airlift would continue, with Mr. Kirby saying, “We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission.” However, Mr. Kirby said, the U.S. would put higher priority on flying out American troops and equipment in the mission’s final days.

The airport has been the site of chaotic scenes since the Taliban takeover of the capital earlier this month, as tens of thousands of Afghans and foreign citizens had desperately searched for a way out.

The U.S. Embassy had warned Americans on Wednesday to stay away from the airport and told anyone outside the perimeter to “leave immediately,” citing unnamed security threats, and British and Australian governments issued similar warnings.

The warnings came as the last of an estimated 1,500 Americans and countless other foreigners still in Afghanistan try to make it to the airport to leave before the U.S. withdrawal deadline. Thousands of Afghan nationals were camped outside the perimeter of the airport in attempts to escape on the last flights out, some with documents allowing them to leave.

Turkey also announced that its troops, which have run Kabul’s international airport for the past six years, were beginning to withdraw, abandoning a plan to remain in the country after the U.S. troop withdrawal.

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about confidential assessments, confirmed that the United States was tracking a “specific” and “credible” threat at the airport from the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, which has carried out dozens of attacks in recent years, many targeting ethnic minorities and other civilians.

Evacuations had continued through the increasing alarm about security. The White House said early on Thursday that 13,400 people had been evacuated from the Kabul airport in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total since the Taliban retook the city to 95,700.

After warnings of suicide attacks in the vicinity of the airport, Belgium decided to end its evacuation flights from Kabul on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Thursday morning.

“On Wednesday, during the day, the situation quickly got worse,” Mr. De Croo said. “We learned that there was a threat of suicide-bomb attacks in the vicinity of the airport and in the crowds. We also saw that access to the airport gates became more difficult and even impossible as a result.”

The last flights included all Belgian military personnel at the airport, he said.

A statement from the defense ministry of the Netherlands said the government could no longer continue its evacuations either because of the rapidly deteriorating situation. The ministry said all remaining Dutch military personnel and the embassy team would leave on the last flights.

Denmark’s defense ministry also reported on Wednesday evening that its armed forces had conducted their last airlift from Kabul. The “increase in threat and risk around the airport” had been a factor in ending the operation, the ministry said in a statement.

C.I.A.-backed Afghan Special Forces securing the northern perimeter of the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The Pentagon flew out 13,400 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in the past 24 hours, military officials said on Thursday, a sharp decline from the past few days largely because receiving bases in the Middle East are again filling up. Of that 24-hour total, coalition flights carried out 8,300 passengers — about the same as in recent days.

But the number of U.S. military flights on Thursday dropped to 17, carrying 5,100 people, from 42 military flights carrying 11,200 people the previous day, a military official said. Military officials blamed the decline largely on bottlenecks at bases like Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where officials are taking up to 12 hours to check arriving Afghans against American counterterrorism watch lists.

The massive civilian airlift will continue until the Aug. 31 deadline set by President Biden to withdraw U.S. forces, a mission complicated even further by at least two blasts outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday, just hours after Western governments had warned of a security threat there.

About 5,400 American troops are now at the airport after 400 troops not essential to the evacuation left the country in recent days, John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said.

Over the past few days, the military and its foreign partners had been flying out around 20,000 people a day as the military operation raced to fly out as many Americans and Afghan allies as possible before the Aug. 31 deadline.

Thursday’s 13,400 new evacuations brought the total since the Taliban retook the city to 95,700 people.

Outside the international airport in Kabul on Wednesday. The biggest immediate threat to the Americans and the Taliban as the United States escalates its evacuation is ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The United States has been battling the Taliban and their militant partners in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network, for 20 years.

But the biggest immediate threat to both the Americans and the Taliban as the United States escalates its evacuation at the Kabul airport before an Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline is a common rival that is lesser known: Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the terrorist group’s affiliate in Afghanistan.

Created six years ago by disaffected Pakistani Taliban, ISIS-K has carried out dozens of attacks in Afghanistan this year. American military and intelligence analysts say threats from the group include a bomb-laden truck, suicide bombers infiltrating the crowd outside Hamid Karzai International Airport and mortar strikes against the airfield.

These threats, coupled with new demands by the Taliban for the United States to leave by Aug. 31, probably influenced President Biden’s decision on Tuesday to stick to that deadline. “Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians,” Mr. Biden said.

The threats lay bare a complicated dynamic between the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network, and their bitter rival, ISIS-K, in what analysts say portends a bloody struggle involving thousands of foreign fighters on both sides.

A United Nations report in June concluded that 8,000 to 10,000 fighters from Central Asia, the North Caucasus region of Russia, Pakistan and the Xinjiang region in western China have poured into Afghanistan in recent months. Most are associated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, the report said, but others are allied with ISIS-K.

“Afghanistan has now become the Las Vegas of the terrorists, of the radicals and of the extremists,” said Ali Mohammad Ali, a former Afghan security official. “People all over the world, radicals and extremists, are chanting, celebrating the Taliban victory. This is paving the way for other extremists to come to Afghanistan.”

Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from Paris.

A picture provided by the Turkish Defense Ministry of a Turkish transport aircraft and an armored vehicle at Kabul’s international airport last week.
Credit…Turkish Defense Ministry, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Turkey’s troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, where they have run Kabul’s international airport for the last six years, abandoning a plan to remain after the U.S. withdrawal.

“We aim to complete the transfer of soldiers in the shortest possible time,” Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s defense minister, said in a statement on Thursday. He thanked Pakistan and Tajikistan for their cooperation in the evacuation of troops.

The Turkish Defense Ministry announced on Twitter on Wednesday the return of the first troops to Turkish soil that same day, adding that the whole operation would take just 36 hours.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had offered to keep Turkish troops at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul’s main airport with both a civilian and military sections, after the departure of American troops by the Aug. 31 deadline, in order to support the Afghan government and maintain access by air for Western embassy personnel and international aid organizations.

The Taliban had repeatedly demanded that Turkey, a member of the NATO mission in Afghanistan for the last 20 years, should leave. But Mr. Erdogan had continued to hold discussions with Taliban representatives and regional countries, in particular Pakistan, which has close ties with the Taliban, to explore the possibility for a continued Turkish presence.

When the Taliban seized control of the capital earlier this month and the United States and NATO partners accelerated their departures from the country, Turkey increased its force of some 600 personnel to 3,000 to assist with the evacuations.

But in the face of chaos at the airport during the last 10 days, worsening security concerns and the unyielding stance of the Taliban — as well as a growing chorus of opposition at home arguing that Turkey should not bear the risk of securing the airport on its own — Mr. Erdogan decided to withdraw troops.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for the president and national security adviser, said that Turkey was still offering the Taliban government technical assistance to run the airport.

“After our soldiers withdraw, we can keep the duty of managing the airport,” he said in an interview on the Turkish news channel NTV. “There is a dimension of logistical capacity of running an airport. Negotiations on that are ongoing,” he said.

The Turkish help would be a professional service which the Taliban lacked, he added.

Waiting to gain access to the international airport in Kabul on Wednesday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Britain said on Thursday that it had credible intelligence of a likely terrorist attack in Afghanistan within “hours,” urging those trying to flee the country to stay away from the Kabul airport even as it acknowledged that the window was closing for its evacuation operation.

Speaking to LBC Radio, James Heappey, the armed forces minister, said that the threat from an Islamic State affiliate, the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, was so grave that he had been given a briefing on what to say if it happened as he spoke in broadcast interviews.

“There is real imminence, there is real credibility and there is real lethality to the plans we are aware of,” Mr. Heappey said, adding: “I was given lines today for what might happen if the attack happened while I was doing this media round — we are not doing this unnecessarily, we are not being overly cautious.”

Because of the threat, Britain has now changed its formal travel advice and told those hoping to leave the country to stay away from the Kabul airport, a warning that may prompt those desperate to leave the country to head for international land borders instead.

In his interview, Mr. Heappey acknowledged that the “clock continues to tick down,” for the evacuation operation.

“The intelligence we have been receiving over the imminence and credibility of an Islamic State attack,” he added, “has grown significantly to the point where in all good conscience we couldn’t do anything but change the travel advice last night to advise people against moving to Kabul airport and if they are at the airport to move away to a place of safety.”

Speaking to the BBC, Mr. Heappey said that Britain had evacuated just under 2,000 people in the previous 24 hours but said that perhaps a further 1,000 of those it wants to extract remained inside the country. Eleven more British military flights were planned for Thursday, he said.

According to British media reports, Ben Wallace, the defense secretary, told lawmakers in a private meeting on Wednesday that the better option for some of those hoping to leave Afghanistan would be to head for an international border with Pakistan or Iran.

Mr. Wallace has previously acknowledged in public that Britain would be unable to evacuate some of those it wants to get out of the country but promised that, if they managed to leave Afghanistan themselves, they would be provided assistance once outside the country. Officials say that this would probably be done through embassies and consular services in nations bordering Afghanistan.

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transcript

transcript

Kamala Harris Pledges Support to Afghan Women and Children

During a trip to Vietnam, Vice President Kamala Harris said the first priority for rescue missions in Afghanistan are American citizens and women and children in the region.

Our highest priority right now is evacuating American citizens, evacuating Afghans who worked with us and Afghans who are at risk, with a priority around women and children, and we have made significant progress in that regard. I believe that since Aug. 14, I believe, we have evacuated over 80,000 people. And as you know, each day and night, we continue to evacuate thousands of people, understanding that it is risky for them to be there. It it is a dangerous and difficult mission, but it must be seen through and we intend to see it through as best as we can.

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During a trip to Vietnam, Vice President Kamala Harris said the first priority for rescue missions in Afghanistan are American citizens and women and children in the region.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Evelyn Hockstein

Vice President Kamala Harris said on Thursday that the United States would work with its allies to protect women and children in Afghanistan, as the Taliban takeover forced her to confront troubling historical parallels and diverted attention from her original mission on a five-day trip to Southeast Asia.

“There’s no question that any of us who are paying attention are concerned about that issue in Afghanistan,” said Ms. Harris, referring to the protection of women and children in that country.

The vice president made her comments in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, on the final day of her trip to Southeast Asia, a key part of the Biden administration’s strategy to forge partnerships in the region and refocus American foreign policy on competing with China’s rising influence.

Ms. Harris has faced the steep challenge of reassuring partners in Asia, and across the world, that the United States can still be a credible ally amid the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan and the United States’ hurried evacuations.

With the Biden administration racing to meet an Aug. 31 deadline to leave Afghanistan, the situation in Kabul, has cast a shadow over a trip meant to focus on public health, supply chain issues and economic partnerships.

A Turkish Airlines airplane taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport 2 weeks ago, one of the last commercial flights to leave Kabul.
Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

Almost two dozen students and their parents from San Diego County in California are trapped in Afghanistan after they visited the country this summer, the authorities said.

The 20 students and 14 parents are stuck in Afghanistan and have requested government assistance to fly home, according to a statement from the Cajon Valley Union School District and a tweet from Representative Darrell Issa, who represents the district where the students are from. The children range in age from preschool to high school, said David Miyashiro, the district superintendent.

The students and parents, who make up five families, went to Afghanistan to visit their extended families, the school district said. But they soon realized they wouldn’t make it back for the first day of school on Aug. 17; two days earlier, the Taliban had stunned the world by capturing Kabul at alarming speed.

It became nearly impossible to secure a flight out of the country, and the families could not reach the airport even though they had plane tickets, Cajon Valley School Board President Tamara Otero told the Los Angeles Times.

The families were not among the hordes of people desperately trying to board a plane out of the Kabul airport, Dr. Miyashiro said in an interview on Wednesday night.

“Most of them are hiding and sheltering in place until somebody contacts them to help them get out,” he said.

One of the families asked on Aug. 16 that the school “hold their children’s spots in their classrooms while they were stranded,” the school district said.

However, one family secured passage out of Afghanistan. Four students and two parents, along with one infant, returned home this week after stopping in another country, Dr. Miyashiro said.

Mr. Issa said Wednesday on Twitter that he was “working diligently” to bring the stranded families home.

“I won’t stop until we have answers and action,” he said.

Jonathan Wilcox, a spokesman for Mr. Issa, said in a statement that the congressman is trying to obtain immigration paperwork for his constituents who are stuck in Afghanistan.

“We are in consistent contact with official channels including the State Department and the Pentagon,” the statement said.

People protest the situation in Afghanistan in front of the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva last week.
Credit…Martial Trezzini/KEYSTONE, via Associated Press

The United Nations leadership faced growing anger from staff unions on Wednesday over what some called its failure to protect Afghan co-workers and their families, who remain stuck in Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban even as the majority of the organization’s non-Afghan staff have been relocated to other countries.

Many of the Afghan employees, their foreign colleagues say, are in hiding or are reluctant to keep working, fearful of reprisals by triumphant Taliban militants who may perceive them as apostates, traitors and agents of foreign interference.

That fear has persisted even though the Taliban’s hierarchy has indicated that the U.N. should be permitted to work in the country unimpeded during and after the forces of the United States and NATO withdraw, a pullout that is officially scheduled for completion in less than a week.

An internal U.N. document reported by Reuters on Wednesday said Taliban operatives had detained and beaten some Afghan employees of the United Nations. Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for Secretary General António Guterres, did not confirm or deny the report but said it was “critical is that the authorities in charge in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan realize that they have the responsibility to protect U.N. premises and for the safety of U.N. staff.”

Mr. Guterres has repeatedly said the U.N. fully supports the Afghan staff, who are said to number between 3,000 and 3,400, and that he is doing everything in his power to ensure their safety. Mr. Dujarric said about 10 percent of those Afghan workers are women, who are especially at risk of facing Taliban repression.

The secretary general reiterated his assurances during a private virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday with staff members, said Mr. Dujarric, who told reporters that Mr. Guterres “understands the staff’s deep anxiety about what the future holds.”

But rank-and-file staff members of the United Nations have grown increasingly skeptical of Mr. Guterres’s pronouncements. A resolution passed on Tuesday by the U.N. staff union in New York urged Mr. Guterres to take steps that would enable Afghan staff members to avoid “unacceptable residual risks by using evacuation from Afghanistan as soon as possible.”

U.N. officials have said they are powerless to issue visas to Afghan personnel without cooperation from other countries willing to host them. U.N. officials also have said the organization remains committed to providing services in Afghanistan, where roughly half the population needs humanitarian aid. Such services, including food and health care, are impossible to conduct without local staff.

The town hall was held a few days after a second batch of non-Afghan U.N. staff had been airlifted from Kabul. Many of the roughly 350 non-Afghan U.N. personnel who had been in the country, including Deborah Lyons, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Afghanistan, are now working remotely from Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The unequal treatment of non-Afghan and Afghan personnel working for the U.N. has become an increasingly bitter sore point between management and staff at the global organization. An online petition started this past weekend by staff union members calling on Mr. Guterres to do more to help Afghan employees and their families had, as of Wednesday, garnered nearly 6,000 signatures.

Correction: 

An earlier version of this item misidentified the U.N. staff union organization that passed a resolution urging the U.N. secretary general to help Afghan employees evacuate Afghanistan. It was the U.N. staff union in New York, not the coordinating committee of the association of staff unions.

Abbas Karimi during practice on Tuesday at the Paralympics in Tokyo.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

TOKYO — The first time Abbas Karimi jumped into a pool, the water brought fresh relief from the heat of Kabul, the Afghan capital.

For Mr. Karimi, 24, who was born without arms, it conferred a sense of freedom and protection. And it was swimming that would later propel Mr. Karimi — one of six athletes competing for the Refugee Paralympic Team in Tokyo — to flee Afghanistan when he was 16.

After winning a national championship in his homeland, he yearned to train for international competition without the daily fears of war and terrorism.

“I needed to be somewhere I could be safe and keep training and be a Paralympic champion,” he said in an interview on Zoom this month.

On Tuesday night, eight years after leaving Afghanistan, Mr. Karimi led the parade of nations into the stadium at the Paralympics’ opening ceremony as one of two flag bearers for the refugee team.

He is one of millions who fled the violence in Afghanistan long before the current crisis. And because the chaos surrounding the Taliban takeover and the U.S. withdrawal prevented Afghanistan’s Paralympic delegation from flying to Tokyo, he may be the only Afghan athlete to compete at the Games.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) answering questions from reporters during a press conference regarding the security situation and evacuations in Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Tuesday.
Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

The resettlement of Afghan allies in the U.S. is exposing an internal divide between the Republican Party’s anti-immigrant wing and conservatives who want to help the refugees.

Many Republican leaders have accused President Biden of abandoning the Afghan interpreters and guides who helped the United States during two decades of war, leaving thousands of people in limbo in a country now controlled by the Taliban.

But others — including former President Trump and Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader — have criticized Mr. Biden for opening the United States up to what they characterized as dangerous foreigners.

“We’ll have terrorists coming across the border,” Mr. McCarthy said last week on a call with a bipartisan group of House members, according to two people who were on the call, where he railed against the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal.

The debate is pitting traditional conservatives, who are more inclined to defend those who have sacrificed for America, against the anti-immigrant wing of the party. And it is a fresh test of Mr. Trump’s power to make Republican leaders fall in line behind him.

For now, the faction of Republicans that supports welcoming Afghan refugees to the United States is larger than the one warning of any potential dangers that could accompany their resettlement, according to a poll.





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