On Thursday, the city of Kabul in Afghanistan was rocked by explosions as people scrambled to evacuate from the country that has quickly fallen to Taliban takeover. As civilians and US forces gathered in the area just outside of the Kabul airport, a number of explosions tore through the crowd, killing many. As the sun rises on a new day in Kabul, questions hang heavy in the air; what do we know now about the explosions? CELEB takes a look at the grim news coming out of Afghanistan Friday morning, and what it means for the continued evacuations from Kabul.
Confusion followed reports of a bomb exploding outside of the Kabul airport Thursday as crowds surged near the entrance, desperate to try to board planes to evacuate the country. Taliban fighters, now in control of Afghanistan, have been preventing some from accessing the airport, leading to desperation and a crescendo of fear as the days pass. Right now, the United States has been given a deadline of August 31st by which to evacuate all nationals, and Afghan civilians who worked with the US during the past two decades are trying to get out as well, fearful they will face reprisals for collaborating with the now deposed government. So that was the atmosphere filling the crowd waiting outside of the airport; fear, anticipation, anger, and hopelessness.
Then came the explosions.
Reports on the ground say multiple explosions detonated, followed by gunfire. The official report is succinct. According to Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, two ISIS suicide bombers detonated devices amid the crowd. After the devices detonated, ISIS terrorists opened fire on the crowd. One near Abbey Gate leading into the airport, and one by nearby Baron Hotel.
Per ABC news, “McKenzie said it was his ‘working assumption’ that a suicide bomber was going through the Abbey Gate — being searched and checked by U.S. service members — when the person detonated the vest. The general did not know the size of the bomb or have much information about the explosion near the Baron Hotel. No bomber got onto airport grounds, McKenzie said.”
The general added, “clearly there has been a failure,” from the Taliban’s efforts checking civilians. But the general signaled that the US would continue working with the Taliban to effect orderly evacuations of US nationals and allies, and would occasionally continue sharing intelligence and information with the militant group.
How Many People Were Killed?
Many worry that the Taliban and ISIS-K, who took responsibility for the attack – are just two sides of the same coin. Both are extremist religious/political groups responsible for terrorist attacks over the years. But they are sworn enemies. So who was the target? Taliban or the US? Most likely, ISIS-K took the opportunity to hit both groups at once, nevermind who took the most losses.
The questions about why are academic for those who died in the blast. More than 100 people died in the explosions, including 13 US service members and over 90 Afghan civilians. This marks the third most deadly day for US forces in Afghanistan after two decades of war, and the most deadly day since 2011. Family of the service members killed are rocked by the fact that the war was over, their family members were coming home – just to die now, at the very end. It’s an unfathomable loss that follows so much hope. And Afghan civilians see this newest volley of violence as a concerning sign of things to come, the loss of nearly 100 innocent civilians a staggering blow to a country already reeling from chaos and uncertainty in recent days.
And on the ground, horror. The BBC reports per Yahoo!, “‘I saw doomsday’ One Afghan, who previously worked with an international development group and who holds a US visa, was among the thousands of people who had been waiting outside Kabul’s airport for hours when the explosion struck.
‘It was as if someone pulled the ground from under my feet. For a moment I thought my eardrums were blasted and I lost my sense of hearing,’ he told Reuters news agency.
‘I saw bodies and body parts flying in the air like a tornado taking plastic bags… into the air. I saw bodies, body parts, elderly and injured men, women and children scattered in the blast site.
‘It is not possible to see doomsday in this life, but today I saw doomsday, I witnessed it with my own eyes.'”
And one man who was trying to evacuate recounts trying to save a baby girl he found amid the destruction, per CBS, “‘There was a lot of traffic. I had to get out and pick her up again,’ he said. ‘I took her to the hospital, but she died on my hands. … I tried. I did my best to help her.'”
What Happens Next
What happens is next is unclear. The United States is still forging ahead with its August 31st deadline, although President Joseph Biden has signaled in an address to the nation that the deadline may need to be extended to insure its completion.
Interests around Kabul and other Afghanistan cities are on alert in the wake of the explosion, fearful that ISIS will take the opportunity to get more double blows in against the United States and Taliban. For now, the US and Taliban are working somewhat harmoniously side by side to continue evacuations – a scenario unimaginable before former President Donald Trump brought them to the table to negotiate last year.
But it’s an alliance with blindfolds and earmuffs. Reports have trickled in from Taliban-occupied cities across Afghanistan that the extremist group is up to its old tricks, enslaving and raping women in the name of their religious beliefs, and killing men who oppose them. It’s this group with their bloody history that the United States is holding hands with right now, pretending not to see. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, however, says that there are no blinders despite appearances; “‘I’m not trying to sugarcoat what we think of the Taliban,’ Psaki told reporters. ‘They’re not a group we trust. They are not our friends, we have never said that.’
‘It is also the reality that the Taliban controls large swathes of Afghanistan,’ she added. ‘And to date, because of coordination with the Taliban, we’ve been able to evacuate more than 104,000 people, save 104,000 lives, and that coordination is necessary in order to continue our evacuation measures.'”
For now, at least the Taliban and the United states are in accord about two things: they both want the evacuations to finish by August 31st, and they’re both furious with ISIS.
Wall-Street Journal reports, “The Taliban are a sworn enemy of Islamic State, and shot dead one of the group’s top leaders in Afghanistan hours after taking over the Kabul prison where he was held. The two Islamist groups have fought each other in Afghanistan since 2015, particularly in the eastern part of the country. As recently as Tuesday, a Taliban spokesman told Iranian state media that Islamic State no longer existed in Afghanistan.
‘We strongly condemn this gruesome incident and will take every step to bring the culprits to justice,’ Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said.”
And Biden had encouragement to offer, per Fox News, “‘These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans there. We will get our Afghan allies out and our mission will go on,’ Biden said. ‘America will not be intimidated. And I have the utmost confidence in our brave service members who continue to execute this mission with courage and honor to save lives and get Americans, our partners, our Afghan allies out of Afghanistan.'”
But brave words and promises of retaliation are of cold comfort to the families of over 100 people who mourn today. Afghanistan has been through much for the past two decades, its civilians thrown under the wheels of a machine they have no control over. Although the Taliban has promised that they are in control and peace will follow, yesterday’s explosions prove that there will be no rest for the soul-weary.