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Multiple U.S. service members were killed in the attack near Kabul airport, Pentagon says

Smoke rises from explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. The explosion went off outside Kabul’s airport, where thousands of people have flocked as they try to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Wali Sabawoon | AP

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday confirmed that several U.S. service members have been killed after two explosions went off near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“We can confirm that a number of U.S. service members were killed in today’s complex attack at Kabul airport. A number of others are being treated for wounds,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

“We also know that a number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and injured,” he added.

About 5,400 U.S. servicemembers are assisting with evacuation efforts in Kabul. The British have about 1,000 troops assisting with the evacuation efforts. The U.K. Ministry of Defense said there were no reported casualties among its government and military personnel in Kabul after the attack.

Kirby said the explosion at the airport’s Abbey Gate “was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of U.S. and civilian casualties.” At least one other explosion occurred near the Baron Hotel not far from the Abbey Gate, he added.

The Pentagon has delayed a press briefing that was originally scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been briefed on the situation.

“The president met with his national security team Thursday morning, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley as well as commanders on the ground in Kabul,” the White House said in a statement.

“He will continue to be briefed on updates on the evolving situation throughout the day,” the statement added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also been updated on the situation at the airport, a spokesperson said.

A meeting slated for 11:30 p.m. ET between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House has also been delayed.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul described the explosion as “large” and said there were reports of gunfire, urging Americans to avoid travel to the airport and its gates.

The embassy had previously issued a security alert urging Americans to avoid the airport, “U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the alert said.

In the last 24 hours, Western forces evacuated 13,400 people out of Kabul on 91 military cargo aircraft flights. Since the mass evacuations began Aug. 14, approximately 95,700 people have been airlifted out of Afghanistan.

About 101,300 people have been evacuated since the end of July, including about 4,500 U.S. citizens and their families.

Warning: Graphic image. Volunteers and medical staff unload bodies from a pickup truck outside a hospital after two powerful explosions, which killed at least six people, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021.

Wakil Kohsar | AFP | Getty Images

Blinken said Wednesday that there may be as many as 1,500 Americans in Afghanistan left to evacuate, a calculation he explained was “difficult to pin down with absolute precision at any given moment.”

The nation’s top diplomat added that the U.S. currently is “aggressively reaching out” to about 1,000 contacts “multiple times a day, through multiple channels of communication” to determine if they still want to leave and to give them instructions on how to do so.

Blinken added the actual number could also be lower.

“The U.S. government does not track Americans’ movements when they travel around the world,” Blinken said in his first press briefing since the collapse of the Afghan government to the Taliban more than a week ago.

“There could be other Americans in Afghanistan who never enrolled with the embassy, who ignored public evacuation notices and have not yet identified themselves.”

Biden on Tuesday reiterated to leaders of the G-7, NATO, United Nations and European Union that the United States will withdraw its military from Afghanistan by the end of the month.

The president warned that staying longer in Afghanistan carries serious risks for foreign troops and civilians. Biden said ISIS-K, an Afghanistan-based affiliate of the terror group, presents a growing threat to the airport.

“Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians,” he said.

The Taliban said earlier Tuesday that the group will no longer allow Afghan nationals to leave the country on evacuation flights nor will they accept an extension of the withdrawal deadline beyond the end of the month.

“We are not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters during a news conference Tuesday.

“They [the Americans] have the opportunity, they have all the resources, they can take all the people that belong to them, but we are not going to allow Afghans to leave and we will not extend the deadline,” he said. Evacuations carried out by foreign forces after Aug. 31 would be a “violation” of a Biden administration promise to end the U.S. military’s mission in the country, Mujahid said.

— CNBC’s Spencer Kimball contributed to this report from New York.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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