The suicide bomber waited until the last possible moment, US officials said. Crowds entering Hamid Karzai International Airport were concentrated at the abbey gate, a main entrance guarded by marines and other military personnel.
The troops knew they could be the target of an attack; the day before, the State Department had warned of a “credible” threat to three airport gates, where more than 5,000 soldiers helped to evacuate more than 100,000 people in less than two weeks. The abbey gate was on the list.
Airport security had closed two doors but decided to leave them open, US officials said. They also said they believed earlier today Taliban commanders and fighters guarding checkpoints on the airport road foiled two possible militants’ attempts to reach the airport.
But the third managed to pass.
At 5:48 p.m., the suicide bomber, dressed in a vest with more than 11 kilograms of explosives under his clothes, approached the group of Americans who were searching people who intended to enter the complex.
He waited, officials said, until just before being registered by US soldiers. He then detonated the bomb, which was unusually large for a life jacket, killing himself and triggering an attack that would kill dozens of people, including 13 US servicemen.
“This is a war of proximity – you can smell the breath of the person you are looking for,” General Kenneth McKenzie, chief of the US Central Command, said on Thursday (26) after the attack, describing the contact face to face between the Marines. at the airport gate and the Afghans they were supposed to search before allowing them to enter.
Pentagon officials have said they are still reverting to the series of events that unfolded Thursday at Abbey Gate. There will be picture-by-picture reviews and drawings with detailed listings of what led up to this moment. There will be questions: why were so many soldiers gathered so close to each other? How did the suicide bomber escape Taliban checkpoints? Did someone let you through?
As the extent of the damage has become clearer, health officials in Kabul have increased the toll, saying at least 170 people have died. Afghans attempting to escape the Taliban regime continued to arrive at the airport on Friday (27), but the crowd size was estimated at several hundred, compared with the thousands who were there when the explosion took place. The airport remained virtually closed, although evacuation flights continued.
Shortly after 2 p.m. Friday, as another gray US plane took off from the airport carrying the flag-draped coffins of the 13 US soldiers, angst over Thursday’s bombing spread from Kabul to the United States. At the Dover Air Force Base Mortuary in Delaware, military personnel would begin the ritual of dressing and preparing another group of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
“I’ve never been in politics and I’m not starting now,” Marilyn Soviak, sister of Maxton Soviak, a soldier from Ohio who was among the dead, said in an Instagram post. “What I will say is that my handsome, intelligent, independent, boring and charming little brother was killed yesterday while helping to save lives.”
Shortly after the bomb exploded, Defense Ministry officials said nearby fighters started shooting. Authorities said some of the Americans and Afghans at Abbey Gate may have been affected by the shooting.
There was so much confusion after the explosion that the military first reported that there had been a second suicide bomber at the nearby Baron Hotel. That turned out to be wrong, according to Major General Hank Taylor, deputy director of regional operations at the Joint Command.
Weighing over 11 kilos, the vest worn by the suicide bomber caused untold damage. According to army manuals, suicide bombers usually wear a belt containing 5 kilograms or less of explosives, or a vest weighing 10 to 10 kilograms. Along with this larger vest, which included pieces of metal that acted like deadly shrapnel, the bomber also injured dozens of Afghans, as well as 14 other American soldiers, who were transferred to Landstuhl Medical Center near of Ramstein Air Base in Germany. .
It didn’t take long for Hamid Karzai International Airport to transform from a commercial hub into a final defensive position for the US military, which previously sent tens of thousands of troops to remote parts of the world. Afghanistan. Apache helicopters flew overhead and rapid-reaction marine forces lurked the perimeter. In the command center, information from drones and surveillance cameras sent infrared images of the crowd gathered at the gates.
The Marines who tended to the abbey gate at the farm had arrived in Kabul about a week earlier. They have been renewed and with one goal in mind: to get as many people through as possible. This involved using an interpreter and loudspeaker to convince the crowd to back down, a grueling task that allowed the Marines to open two entry points.
The fall of Kabul had sparked a tsunami of desperate phone calls, emails and messages from foreign organizations that had worked in Afghanistan for the past 20 years, all begging the Pentagon to help remove their officials and their allies in the country.
Others who have worked with Afghans, including teachers who have visited schools around the country, joined with U.S. senators, directors of media companies and heads of global organizations in calling for the help their former partners, who are at risk of retaliation from the Taliban.
The orders reached US troops at Kabul airport. “The Marines who died were the ones who helped our team,” said Cori Shepherd, a filmmaker who has helped Afghan girls attend schools in the United States. “These men were literally breaking in and pulling our women to safety, coordinating with our man to find them. The men who worked at Abbey Gate were extremely brave.”
Retired Admiral Peter Vasely, a former member of the Navy SEALs who is leading the operation at the airport, has called on Taliban commanders to better control people heading towards the Abbey Gate, officials said.
The Taliban may have “frustrated” other attempts, McKenzie told reporters Thursday. But after all, “there is no substitute for a young man or young woman – a young American – standing there searching a person before letting them in,” the serviceman said.
Efforts to remove vulnerable people from Afghanistan will continue, he said. “That’s why we’re here.”