Evacuation flights resumed on Friday at Kabul’s airport, less than a day after 13 American service members and scores of Afghans were killed in suicide bombings claimed by the ISIS faction in Afghanistan. There were warnings from military officials that more attacks could target the airport, and that the risk of them was increasing amid the rush to get hundreds of Americans, and as many vulnerable Afghans as possible out of the country.
An Afghan health ministry official told CBS News on Friday morning that the death toll from the double bombing attack had reached at least 170, the vast majority of the victims being Afghans. Of the 13 American service members who were killed, 10 were Marines. The U.S. Navy confirmed on Friday that another one of the Americans killed was a Sailor. It was the deadliest day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a decade. At least 18 more U.S. troops were injured in the attack.
President Biden, addressing the nation on Thursday, vowed that America would not forgive or forget the perpetrators of the attack. His top military commander in the region promised that U.S. forces were already working to track down the ISIS plotters behind the bombings, and that the U.S. would take revenge.
CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reported that the bombers struck late in the afternoon at an airport entrance packed with people, and Afghanistan was bracing on Friday for more violence.
The country, and the U.S. military, were on a state of high alert. Even as the American forces dealt with their devastating losses, they remained focused on the mission to get as many people out as they can in the days ahead.
The clock was ticking: President Biden has been adamant, despite significant pressure from U.S. politicians of all stripes and America’s allies, that his August 31 deadline to get all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan shouldn’t be altered.
Evacuations were underway again on Friday after being derailed by the attack the previous day. And desperate people were defying the threat of new attacks by ISIS, and warnings from the country’s new Taliban rulers, still gathering outside the airport in hopes of an escape flight.
But at the airport’s Abbey Gate, the scene of yesterday’s first and largest blast, there was only a lone Taliban fighter standing among the blood-stained belongings left strewn all over the ground on Friday.
Frantic people scattered in all directions after the explosion, amid rumours that more suicide bombers were on the loose. Images of the immediate aftermath — piles of bloodied bodies in a sewage drainage ditch — quickly made clear the devastating toll taken by the first suicide bomb blast.
Overstretched and underequipped medical staff struggled to save lives at Kabul’s hospitals. Many terrified workers fled when the Taliban took over the capital city.
While the U.S. and U.K. were still flying people out on Friday, most European nations had already planned to bring an end to their flights today.
Intelligence from the U.S. and its allies predicted Thursday’s attack, and there were warnings hours before.
“We always thought there would be a risk that escalates as we left, in general terms,” U.K. Defense Minister Ben Wallace said. “Of course, ISIS being probably the most ruthless, the most cowardly when it comes to its type of attacks, but also the one that doesn’t really have any regard for life, was obviously the prime suspect.”
ISIS claimed responsibility for the Thursday attack, posting an image of an alleged suicide bomber online.
By Friday morning, for many, the mass bid for evacuation had turned into a mass burial. Relatives came to area hospitals to collect the bodies of their loved ones.
The airport remained a vulnerable target. On Thursday, U.S. Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie said intelligence had revealed other, “very real” terrorist threats, including plans for rocket attacks, and even larger suicide car or truck bombings.
Wallace, the U.K. defense minister, said the terror threat in Kabul was “obviously going to grow the closer we get to leaving,” and he said there was only a “matter of hours” left for Britain to get people out of the Afghan capital on evacuation flights.
“The narrative is always going to be, as we leave, certain groups such as ISIS will want to stake a claim that they have driven out the U.S. or the UK,” Wallace said.
Despite the disruption to flights due to the bombings, the U.S. was able to help evacuate about 12,500 people in the 24 hours leading up to early Friday morning, on board 35 U.S. military flights and 54 coalition flights. Since August 14, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 105,000 people, according to the White House.
feature image: screengrab – CBS News