Terror Attack Rocks Kabul International Airport (Updated)

Warnings of a potential attack on Kabul airport from ISIS have been growing more urgent for days.

A satellite image of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Details are still limited, but there has been an explosion, as well as reports of gunfire, outside of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul where throngs of Afghans continue to gather hoping to escape the country by air. There have been reports for days now that the U.S. government has been increasingly worried that ISIS' franchise in Afghanistan, which is hostile to the United States and its allies and partners, as well as the Taliban, might launch an attack on crowds near the airport, which is the current nexus for all foreign evacuation operations.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby has confirmed the blast, but offered no additional details. There is no official word yet on any casualties or who or what might have been responsible. 

Various media outlets are separately reporting that this was a complex attack that started with a suicide bombing, which was then followed by gunmen attacking the airport. Whether there is still a firefight actively going on outside the airport is unclear.

Multiple foreign government officials had publicly warned just this morning about the possibility of an imminent attack at the airport. There was "very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack" within "hours," U.K. Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey had told the BBC.

"We received information at the military level from the United States, but also from other countries, that there were indications that there was a threat of suicide attacks on the mass of people," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo had also said.

"Due to threats outside the Kabul airport, US citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates unless you receive instructions to do so," an official travel advisory from the U.S. State Department yesterday had advised. "Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately."

This is a rapidly developing story and we will continue to update this piece as more information becomes available.

Update 10:35 AM EST:

New reports are indicating that the initial blast occurred in a sewage canal just outside the airport, an area that is a known chokepoint for getting in and out of the perimeter. There are also reports emerging that U.S. service members may be among the casualties. 

Pictures and video reportedly of the aftermath of this apparent attack are also beginning to emerge, some of which are extremely graphic. However, at least some of the imagery circulating on social media is actually unrelated to this incident.

Update 10:45 AM EST:

There are now reports that there appear to have been two separate explosions. At least 13 people have reportedly been killed and many more wounded.

The U.S. State Department has also now issued a formal security alert regarding this incident, which is as follows:

Event: EXPLOSION AT THE ABBEY GATE OF KABUL AIRPORT, REPORTS OF GUNFIRE

There has been a large explosion at the airport, and there are reports of gunfire.

U.S. citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates at this time.

U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately.

The U.K. government has issued its own statement saying, in part, that it is "working urgently to establish what has happened."

Update 11:10 AM EST:

The Pentagon has now confirmed a number of details about this incident, which it is officially describing as a terrorist attack, including that there were at least two separate explosions, one at Hamid Karzai Internationa airport's Abbey Gate and another in the vicinity of the nearby Baron Hotel. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby has also confirmed that American troops are among the casualties, but offered no additional information. He did not say who may have been responsible.

U.S. President Joe Biden is reportedly in the White House Situation Room receiving updates about the attack.

Emergency, a non-governmental organization headquartered in Italy and with medical personnel working in Kabul, says that its surgical center in Afghanistan's capital alone has received 30 patients as a result of this attack, as well as six individuals who were dead on arrival.

Update 11:55 AM EST:

The reported numbers of casualties from this attack continue to grow, as does the emergence of more graphic imagery. The U.K. government has now, however, confirmed that none of its personnel at the airport were harmed.

The Associated Press has also now reported that U.S. officials strongly believe that ISIS' branch in Afghanistan was responsible, though there remains no official confirmation or claim from the group itself.

What this might mean for any ongoing evacuation operations remains to be seen. A number of countries had already announced the end of their activities at Hamid Karzai International Airport before this attack occurred, citing growing security concerns and the looming end of the U.S. military's mission early next week.

Separately, there are unconfirmed reports also emerging that foreign troops at Hamid Karzai International Airport are welding at least some entry gates shut.

Update 12:30 PM EST:

Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen says that at least 13 people have been killed and 52 wounded in the attack and says the group "will take every step to bring the culprits to justice."

Update 1:10 PM EST:

The Wall Street Journal is now reporting that four U.S. Marines were killed in the attack today in Kabul, while another three were injured.

We have stopped making updates to this story. You can find our continuing coverage of this terrorist attack here.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com