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KABUL, Afghanistan (NewsNation Now) — Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of a massive airlift that has drawn thousands of people seeking to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
At least 12 U.S. service members were killed in the Afghanistan bombings, including 11 Marines and one Navy medic. 15 military members were injured said Marine General Kenneth McKenzie Jr.
Officials warned, however, that the numbers may grow and it does not include any Afghan causalities. McKenzie reported that there were a “number” of deaths and injuries among Afghan citizens.
An Afghan official told the Associated Press at least 60 Afghans were killed and 143 others wounded in airport attack.
“We continue to focus on the protection of our forces and the evacuees, as the evacuation continues. Let me be clear, while we’re saddened by the loss of life, both U.S. and Afghan, we’re continuing to execute the mission,” McKenzie said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a statement expressing his deepest condolences for the military members who died in the attack.
“Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others,” Austin said. “We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief.
McKenzie stated the military believes the complex attack outside Kabul airport was carried out by ISIS-K, a splinter group of the terrorist group ISIS.
He added the military will “go after” the perpetrators of the Kabul attacks if they can be found.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the first attack occurred outside the Abbey Gate in the Kabul airport. The second attack was “at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.” He added it was a “complex attack” with multiple U.S. and civilian causalities.
The explosion went off in a crowd of people waiting to enter the airport, according to Adam Khan, an Afghan waiting nearby. He said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who lost body parts.
NewsNation will stream the Pentagon briefing in the player above.
President Joe Biden was also briefed on the explosion and was meeting with his national security team to discuss the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
The Taliban condemned the attack, saying it happened in an area controlled by U.S. forces.
Thousands of Afghans have been gathered at the airport for days trying to flee the country since the Taliban’s takeover earlier this month. Military officials confirmed Thursday it has evacuated more than 104,000 with over 66,000 by the United States alone and over 37,000 by other countries.
Several countries urged people to avoid the airport, where an official said there was a threat of a suicide bombing. But just days — or even hours for some nations — before the evacuation effort ends, few appeared to heed the call.
Even as the area was hit, the official said evacuation flights continued to take off from Kabul airport, which Western governments earlier warned was a target.
Over the last week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most searing images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the Taliban’s takeover, as flight after flight took off carrying those who fear a return to the militants’ brutal rule.
NewsNationNow.com has spoken with both refugees and advocates desperate to rescue as many people as possible from the country. They have described dangerous conditions on the ground as the Taliban tries to stop people from leaving.
Army veteran Chris McClanathan decried the Biden administration’s troop withdrawal strategy as he explained the struggle his former interpreter, Romal, is facing attempting to leave.
“Unless they tell me something terrible has happened. I’m going to keep doing what I can do. But it’s a shame that I have to do this. Our administration should be doing this,” said McClanathan.
Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and begun to withdraw their soldiers and diplomats, signaling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. The Taliban have so far honored a pledge not to attack Western forces during the evacuation, but insist the foreign troops must be out by America’s self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31.
The hard-line Islamic group wrested back control of the country nearly 20 years after being ousted in a U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaida orchestrated while being sheltered by the group.
Amid the warnings and the pending American withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuations, and European nations halted or prepared to stop their own operations.
The Taliban have said they’ll allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the deadline next week, but it remains unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants.