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2021 Kabul airport attack

Suicide bombing in Afghanistan

2021 Kabul airport attack
Part of the ISIL–Taliban conflict
A United States Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport during evacuations
LocationHamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan
Coordinates34°33′31″N 69°13′13″E / 34.55861°N 69.22028°E / 34.55861; 69.22028Coordinates: 34°33′31″N 69°13′13″E / 34.55861°N 69.22028°E / 34.55861; 69.22028
Date26 August 2021 (2021-08-26)
17:50 (UTC+04:30)
TargetAfghan civilians, foreign troops, and Taliban members
Attack type
Suicide bombing,[1][2] mass shooting
Deaths182+[3]
Injured150+[4][5]
Perpetrators Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province[6][7]
AssailantAbdul Rahman al-Logari[8]

A suicide bombing took place at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 26 August 2021, at 17:50 local time (13:20 UTC),[9] during the evacuation from Afghanistan.[1][10][11][12] At least 182 people were killed, including 169 Afghan civilians and 13 members of the United States military,[13][4] the first American military casualties in Afghanistan since February 2020.[14] The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) claimed responsibility for the attack.[15]

On 27 August, the United States launched an airstrike which the US Central Command said was against three suspected ISIL-KP members in Nangarhar Province.[16] On 29 August, during a US drone attack against a suspected ISIL-KP suicide bomber in Kabul, a family of ten, including seven children were reported as having been killed while close to the target vehicle.[17][18]

Background

After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on 15 August 2021, Hamid Karzai International Airport was the only way out of Afghanistan.[19] Security concerns grew after hundreds of members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) escaped from jails at Bagram and Pul-e-Charkhi.[20] On 16 August, the Pentagon warned the US Congress about the increased threat of a terrorist attack by ISIS following the fall of Kabul the previous day.[21][22] US president Joe Biden received multiple reports of a possible attack during the week preceding the attack,[23] and warned on 22 August in remarks from the White House that the longer US troops remained in the country, the greater the threat that ISIS would pose to American personnel and civilians near the airport.[24]

Hours before the attack, US diplomats in Kabul warned American citizens to leave the airport because of security threats.[25] United Kingdom Armed Forces Minister James Heappey had also warned of a highly credible threat of attack at the airport by ISIS militants.[26][27] The embassies of the United States, United Kingdom and Australia also warned about high-security threats involving the airport.[28]

Attack

Amid the 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan, a crowd of local and foreign civilians fled to the airport to seek to be evacuated.[29] At Abbey Gate, one of the gates into the airport, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest.[30] After the explosion, gunfire erupted and all gates to the airport were closed.[31][32] US officials said that ISIL-KP gunmen opened fire into the crowd after the explosion and US troops returned fire.[2] According to several reporters, eyewitnesses attributed at least some of the gunfire into the crowd and consequent deaths after the explosion to panic by US soldiers.[33][34][35] The Pentagon acknowledged the possibility of US responsibility for some deaths in a news conference on 28 August.[36]

The explosion occurred by a canal where US forces were checking evacuees' passports, visas and other documentation before allowing them inside the airport. An eyewitness stated that the explosion felt as if someone had pulled the ground from under his feet, and saw other evacuees thrown into the air by the force of the blast.[37] Initial reports erroneously stated that a second explosion had taken place at the nearby Baron Hotel.[38][39] The following day, it was confirmed that there was no such second explosion.[40]

The attack was carried out by ISIL-KP, which claimed responsibility and named the bomber.[6][8] The Taliban have fought against ISIL–KP previously.[41] When asked how the terrorists were able to pass through the Taliban's checkpoints, General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), said: "As to whether or not they [the Taliban] let it happen, I don't know. ... I don't think there's anything to convince me that they let it happen."[42]

Victims

Remains of US service members aboard a military transport plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport, 27 August 2021

At least 182 people were killed during the attack, including 169 Afghan civilians and 13 US service members. Two of the killed civilians were British dual-nationals and one was the child of a British national.[3][43] It was initially reported that 28 Taliban fighters had also been killed in the attack, but this was later denied by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.[44] The dead Americans were identified as eleven Marines, one soldier, and one Navy corpsman.[5][13][45][46] The American deaths were the first US service deaths in Afghanistan since February 2020 and were the largest single loss of life of US military personnel since the 2011 Afghanistan Boeing Chinook shootdown.[47]

At least 150 more people were injured,[4] including 18 US military personnel and a number of Taliban members.[48]

Reactions and response

Through a tweet by their spokesperson, the Taliban condemned the attack, saying "evil circles will be strictly stopped".[49] The Taliban later announced that they would take every possible measure to capture ISIL-KP leader Shahab al-Muhajir.[50] Abdullah Abdullah, former Chief Executive of Afghanistan and current National Coalition of Afghanistan leader, condemned the attack.[51] Some civilians claimed to reporters that the attack had strengthened their resolve to evacuate from the country in fear of more attacks.[52]

US President Biden made a public address following the attack. He honoured the US service members who were killed, calling them "heroes" and saying they lost their lives "in the service of liberty", and also expressed deep sorrow for the Afghan victims. Biden said to those who wished harm upon the US that "we will hunt you down and make you pay".[53] The United Kingdom government also said that they will continue Operation Pitting, the evacuation from Afghanistan.[54]

Many nations expressed condemnation for the Kabul airport attack and solidarity with the victims and troops conducting evacuations at the airport.[note 1] The attack was also condemnded by the European Commission[76] and the United Nations.[77] German Chancellor Angela Merkel cancelled an upcoming trip to Israel, and would stay in Germany to monitor the evacuation of German troops.[78] Biden also rescheduled a meeting with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett because of the attack.[53][79] The United Kingdom said civilian evacuations would continue in spite of the attack.[54]

US airstrikes

On 27 August, the United States launched an airstrike against what US military said was a vehicle carrying three ISIL-KP members in Nangarhar Province. Two were killed, who were described by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby as "high-profile ISIS targets" and "planners and facilitators"; the third occupant of the vehicle was injured. A US defence official said that one of the strike targets was "associated with potential future attacks at the airport," and that the US had located him with "sufficient knowledge" to strike.[80]

On 29 August, a drone strike was carried out by the United States, targeting a vehicle which a US spokesperson said was carrying a suspected ISIL-KP member who was believed to be trying to reach Kabul airport to carry out an attack. According to relatives, 10 nearby civilians were killed, including seven children.[17][18] Some of those killed had previously worked for international organisations and held visas allowing them US entry.[18] US officials said the vehicle was carrying at least one ISIL-KP member and that there had been a number of "substantial and powerful subsequent explosions" following the drone strike, which the BBC said implied "there were explosives at the scene".[81] Relatives of the victims however denied any subsequent explosions had occurred and denied that the driver of the car had any connection with the group.[82]

Reactions to airstrikes

The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the killings caused by the drone strike and called for the Biden administration to curtail the use of drone warfare due to its "longstanding pattern" of causing civilian deaths, saying, "For more than ten years, our government's drone strikes have killed thousands of innocent people in ... the Muslim world—destroying family homes, wedding parties and even funeral processions. The civilian casualties in Kabul are simply the latest victims of this misused technology."[83] Amnesty International condemned the strike, noting, "for two decades the United States has carried out strikes with no accountability to the public for how many civilians were killed by US actions... It is unconscionable that the Biden administration continues airstrikes in this shroud of secrecy."[84] Amnesty further called for "a credible and transparent investigation" into the strike, reparations for decades of civilian casualties, and for the United States "to follow international law moving forward." House representative Ilhan Omar described the strike as only the latest in a history of "innocent lives taken and children orphaned in Afghanistan and covert drone warfare around the world. Impunity for these attacks continues to create a never-ending cycle of violence and retribution."[85]

Notes

  1. ^ They include Australia,[55] Canada,[56] China,[57] Denmark,[58] Finland,[59] France,[60] Hungary,[61] India,[62] Indonesia,[63] Iran,[64] Israel,[65] Kazakhstan,[66] Malaysia,[67] New Zealand,[68] Norway,[69] Poland,[70] Romania,[71] Russia,[72] Turkey,[73] Ukraine,[74] the United Kingdom,[54][23] the United States,[53] and Vietnam.[75]

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