The US Ambassador to Afghanistan said getting to the airport in Kabul is ‘safe’ barely two hours before two explosions reportedly killed at least 13 people and injured three members of the US military, likely among others.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed both blasts on Twitter.
‘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. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate. We will continue to update,’ Kirby wrote.
The Taliban told Reuters at least 13 people were killed in the airport blast, and children were among those crowding the area.
But around 8 a.m. Eastern on Thursday morning Ross Wilson, the chief diplomat in Kabul, told Good Morning America that it was still possible to get to Hamid Karzai International Airport safely.
‘There are safe ways to get here, there are safe ways – relatively safe ways to access the airport, and we’re doing everything we can to facilitate that,’ Wilson said.
Ross Wilson, who’s headed the Kabul embassy since January 2020, said there are still ‘safe’ ways to get to the airport but Americans should avoid the crowds around checkpoints
ICYMI: Ross Wilson, top diplomat in #Afghanistan, just told Good Morning America, “There are safe ways to get here. There are…relatively safe ways to access the airport.”
How does that square with State warning Americans not to come to the airport?? This is an absolute mess. pic.twitter.com/yk28AcOEdH
— John Cooper (@thejcoop) August 26, 2021
Before that he told CBS Evening News that ‘people chose not to leave, that’s their business.’
‘Never in my 40 years of working at the State Department have I seen such strong language used. People chose not to leave. That’s their business, that’s their right,’ he said. ‘We regret now that many may find themselves in a position they would rather not be in and we are determined to try and help them.’
But even before the blasts, the State Department sent a dire warning urging Americans at parts of the airport to leave immediately late Wednesday. The department asked other to avoid traveling to the airport ‘unless you receive instructions to do so.’
One of the cautioned areas was the Abbey Gate where the airport blast occurred.
Before the explosions Wilson said the statement was based on ‘credible, imminent, compelling’ threats.
However Wilson added that there are Americans the government is working with on an ‘individualized basis’ to advise people ‘exactly where to go’ and how to do it safely.
‘For American citizens in particular, we are working other ways on an individualized basis to assist in getting to the airport in a safe and secure manner. Being part of these huge crowds that remain around the gates and entrances to the airport is dangerous,’ Wilson said.
Smoke billows from the airport area after a blast outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport
Scenes of chaos after two separate explosions rocked Kabul on Thursday
Thousands of desperate Afghan civilians and foreign nationals have been crowding the airport for days to escape the Taliban before Joe Biden’s August 31 withdrawal deadline
Medical and hospital staff bring an injured man on a stretcher for treatment after two powerful explosions
Thursday morning the State Department also confirmed ‘reports of gunfire’ at the airport and reiterated its warning for US citizens to leave immediately.
Wilson was appointed to head the Kabul embassy by Donald Trump in January 2020, shortly after the former president negotiated a peace deal with the Taliban to drawdown all US troops by May 1.
He has not released any statements following his ABC interview but retweeted the State Department’s most recent warning.
Biden had extended the deadline to August 31, despite pleas from fellow heads of state and lawmakers at home to scrap it. The Taliban also threatened retaliation if western allies didn’t leave by that date.
But the recent warnings have come amid concern over an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.
The Taliban, whose fighters are guarding the perimeter outside the airport, are enemies of the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), after an old name for the region.
‘Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport, they face a threat too from the Islamic State group,’ said a Taliban official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and before the reports of the explosion.
Before the explosion, dozens of Afghans are seen here trying to reach foreign forces behind the Taliban-controlled airport checkpoints
Afghans hold documents as they struggle to reach the foreign forces to show their credentials to flee the country
ISIS-K has claimed a series of suicide attacks in cities such as Kabul, where as well as government and civilian institutions, it particularly attacked targets associated with the Shi’ite religious minority.
President Joe Biden has been briefed on the explosion, according to a White House official. Biden was in a meeting with security officials about the situation in Afghanistan when the explosion was first reported, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Approximately 13,400 people were evacuated from Kabul within a 24-hour window ending August 26 at 3 a.m. Eastern. Since August 14, 95,700 people – mostly Afghans – were flown from the airport to intermediate staging areas before going on to the US.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that as many as 1,500 American citizens could still be in Afghanistan.