Busloads of European and Afghan evacuees were harassed by the Taliban and blocked from entering the airport in Kabul on Wednesday, according to a government document obtained by Yahoo News.
According to the document, just three of seven buses that had been scheduled to drop off evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport were allowed into the airfield on Wednesday after being forced to wait outside for 12 hours. Earlier in the day one of the buses, carrying 21 Bulgarian evacuees, was stopped by Taliban forces, who began taking passengers off the bus and “shooting into the air” at a roundabout at or near the airport’s commercial entrance.
The document, an update from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence about current and emerging threats, was issued on Thursday and designated “law enforcement sensitive.” The chaotic encounter between evacuees and the Taliban described in the document took place hours before two deadly explosions killed several people, including 12 U.S. service members and Afghan civilians, outside the airport on Thursday.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, confirmed the attacks at a press briefing Thursday, telling reporters that a suicide bomb exploded outside one of the main gates at the airport, followed by another bomb in the vicinity of the Baron Hotel, which is near the airport and is frequented by Americans in Kabul. He said that at least 15 other U.S. service members were injured in the attacks, and that a number of Afghan civilians were also killed or wounded.
An Afghan official told Associated Press that at least 60 Afghans were killed and 143 others were injured in the attacks.
U.S. officials suspect that Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), an Afghanistan and Pakistan affiliate of the ISIS terrorist group and an enemy of the Taliban, is responsible for the attacks.
The airport has been the site of an operation by the U.S. military to evacuate tens of thousands of Americans, at-risk Afghans and citizens of allied nations out of Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of the country less than two weeks ago. U.S. officials had been relying on the Taliban to provide safe passage to the airport for Americans and others seeking to leave the country.
Before the bombings, McKenzie said, 104,000 people had been airlifted from the Kabul airport. He said evacuation operations would continue despite the threat of additional attacks, noting that there were currently 5,000 evacuees on the ramp at the airport waiting to be airlifted.
“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,” he said.
The U.S. has been racing to evacuate as many people from Afghanistan as possible before Aug. 31, when the last American troops are scheduled to withdraw from the country. Earlier this week, President Biden confirmed that he intends to stick with that withdrawal deadline despite calls to extend, citing the growing threat that ISIS-K poses to U.S. troops.
“Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport,” Biden said Tuesday. “The sooner we can finish, the better.”
Additional reporting by Jana Winter.
Read more from Yahoo News: