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Pentagon confirms two explosions, multiple U.S. and civilian casualties near Kabul airport

Australian citizens and visa holders prepare to board the Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster III aircraft, as Australian Army infantry personnel provide security and assist with cargo, at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 22, 2021.

SGT Glen McCarthy | Australia’s Department of Defense | via Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday confirmed two explosions near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, which have resulted in a number of U.S. and civilian casualties.

An 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,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. At least one other explosion occurred near the Baron Hotel not far from Abbey Gate, Kirby said.

A White House official told NBC News that President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also been updated on the situation at the airport, a spokesperson said.

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 issued a security alert before the explosion 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.

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

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 on 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.

A U.S. Marine provides assistance during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, August 22, 2021.

US Marines | Reuters

Secretary of State Antony 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 that 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 that 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.

About 5,400 U.S. servicemembers are assisting with evacuation efforts, with nearly 200 U.S. military aircraft dedicated to the mission. The British have about 1,000 troops assisting with the evacuation efforts.

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 press conference on 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.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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