Hundreds of Afghans made their way through the carnage left by the previous day’s deadly suicide bombings outside Kabul airport on Friday in a last-ditch effort to flee the country, as the United States and its allies rushed to complete their final evacuation flights.
The official Afghan death toll from the Islamic State-claimed attack was expected to exceed the current figure of 90. Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital in central Kabul, for example, reported receiving the bodies of 145 people killed.
The United States, which has lost 13 members of its armed forces, has threatened to launch a retaliatory strike against the Islamic State’s local offshoot, known as ISIS-K. On Friday, the Taliban, which has been stationed at checkpoints around the airport, chastised Washington for lax security, which it claimed allowed the bombers to enter. For years, the Taliban has fought the Islamic State as the two Islamist militant groups fought for supremacy in Afghanistan.
In a press conference following the explosions, Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie stated that the threat from Islamic State, as well as “other active threat streams,” remained.
The violence on Thursday appears to have accelerated the pace of evacuations from Kabul airport, with the United Kingdom stating that flights would be completed Friday morning. Other countries expressed regret that they would be unable to airlift all of their citizens and Afghans who had worked with their forces and embassies.
In the early morning, as crowds gathered outside Hamid Karzai International Airport, dozens of Afghan men waded through open sewers lining the street to get closer to the gates.
The crowd was smaller than on Thursday, with many people clearly wary in the aftermath of the attack.
According to a shopkeeper in the area, rumors of another explosion spread later Friday, sending people fleeing the airport in all directions, leaving only Taliban fighters guarding the gates. According to witnesses, Taliban militants have since prevented would-be evacuees from getting close to the airport.
In a speech Thursday evening, President Biden stated that he had directed his military commanders to develop response plans to the attack.
Meanwhile, officials and activists in the United States increased their efforts to get as many Westerners and Afghans out of the country as possible. Access to the airport had been hampered in recent days by Taliban checkpoints and airport bureaucracy, resulting in several evacuation flights taking off with a significant number of empty seats. Americans negotiated tensely with Taliban leaders to bring busloads of Afghans to the airport for flights to places like Ukraine and Albania.
However, the dangers at the airport compelled Western organizers to seek alternative escape routes. More people fleeing Taliban rule took to the roads, which were preparing to accept a new influx of Afghan refugees from its neighbor.
The United Kingdom finished processing documents for about 1,000 people it wanted to evacuate by 4.30 a.m. Friday, according to Ben Wallace, the country’s defense secretary, in a broadcast interview. Due to terrorist threats, Australia and New Zealand announced on Friday that they had flown their final evacuation flight from Afghanistan.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country’s military personnel had been evacuated from Kabul just hours before the attacks, and that the tense security situation made further evacuations risky.
“The heartbreaking thing is that we weren’t able to bring everyone, and now we need to look at what we can do for those who remain,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a press conference on Friday. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Ankara was still considering the Taliban’s request for civilian technical assistance in running Kabul airport. The Taliban’s request to Turkey, a Muslim-majority member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that supported the defunct Afghan republic, demonstrates the Islamist movement’s need for assistance as it seeks to govern the country.
While all Western embassies have closed and staff have been airlifted out of Afghanistan, Russia, which has backed the Taliban as a guarantor of stability for Afghanistan, has so far appeared determined to keep its embassy in Kabul open, but has evacuated several hundred citizens.
Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Dmitry Zhirnov, told Russian television that the Taliban were attentive to security at the embassy, where he said work was continuing smoothly.