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Afghanistan updates: US evacuations continue despite threats of more attacks

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - AUGUST 26: Smoke rises after two explosions reported outside Hamid Karzai International Airport, the center of evacuation efforts from Afghanistan since the Taliban took over in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 26, 2021. (Photo by Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s government collapsed and the Taliban seized control, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.

Two suicide bombers affiliated with ISIS-K carried out what the Pentagon called a “complex attack” outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 13 American service members and wounding 18, among scores of Afghan casualties.

President Joe Biden has addressed the nation on the attack from the White House Thursday, saying, “America will not be intimidated.” Biden sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House last week, the president’s first interview since the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and warned of the threat of attacks on the ground.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:

Aug 27, 11:06 am
No second suicide bomber: Pentagon

Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor said at a Pentagon briefing on Friday that the U.S. now believes there was just one explosion on Thursday and one suicide bomber — and that there was no second explosion or bomber at or near the Baron Hotel.

“I can confirm for you that we do not believe that there was a second explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, that it was one suicide bomber,” he said. “We’re not sure how that report was provided incorrectly, but we do know it’s not any surprise that in the confusion of very dynamic events like this can cause information sometimes to be misreported or garbled.”

Officials had said at a Pentagon briefing on Thursday that they believed there were two suicide bombers — one outside the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport and one at or near the Baron Hotel, the latter of which has now been retracted.

Aug 27, 10:46 am
170 Afghans killed in the Kabul attack: Afghan official

At least 170 Afghans were killed and 200 wounded in the attack in Kabul on Thursday, according to an official at the Ministry of Public Health who spoke on condition of anonymity with ABC News.

He said among the 170 dead, 34 are male (including two boys and 32 men), and four are female (including one girl and three women). He said that the identities of the 132 other people are still unknown at this stage.

The World Health Organization regional headquarters in Cairo had reported earlier at least 161 Afghan civilians died in the attack in Kabul on Thursday.

Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital in Kabul reported to the WHO it had 145 dead bodies brought into the hospital. The Emergency Hospital in Kabul also reported 16 dead on arrival.

Aug 27, 10:04 am
US continues evacuations despite threats of more attacks

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command and highest-ranking commander in the Middle East, told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday that further security threats following the attack in Kabul are “extremely real.”

“We believe it is their desire to continue those attacks, and we expect those attacks to continue,” he said via a videoconference.

“Right now, our focus really, we have other active threat streams, extremely active threat streams against the airfield, we want to make sure we are taking the steps to protect ourselves there. Our focus is on that,” he added.

He said the U.S. is doing everything it can to prepare for those attacks including reaching out to the Taliban, “who are actually providing the outer security cordon around the airfield, to make sure they know what we expect them to do to protect us.”

Despite Thursday’s “complex attack” and threats for more, he said the U.S. will continue its evacuation mission ahead of a full military withdrawal on Aug. 31.

Biden, in remarks from the White House later on Thursday, underscored that he has repeatedly warned that the evacuation mission in Afghanistan was a dangerous one — but one that would continue until the end of the month, even as threats persist.

“These ISIS terrorists will not win,” Biden said. “We will rescue the Americans in there. We will get our Afghan allies out. And our mission will go on.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in a White House briefing following his remarks, cited “ongoing threats” as reasoning for why Biden and his military commanders stuck to the Aug. 31 deadline.

Aug 27, 9:11 am
Former Army Ranger details ‘vulnerable’ US position at airport gates

Jariko Denman, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan and was working in Kabul on Thursday alongside other veterans to help get evacuees out, described the conditions outside the airport to ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday as one that left American forces vulnerable.

“The way that we were forced to expose ourselves in order to get our people in, made us very, very much vulnerable to it,” said Denman, who was flown out of Kabul and to Qatar just ahead of the attack.

“With the sheer numbers of people coming in, we didn’t have the time to, you know, do those different steps and security of walking up, talk to them, search them,” Denman said. “It was just, you know, a mob of 7,000, 8,000 people arm’s distance away.”

Denman said the conditions outside the gate were the worst he’s seen in his 20 years in the Army which includes 15 deployments.

“Families, people carrying toddlers, babies, elderly, trying to get to these gates, to get to us to get through, and I would describe it as a mosh pit on steroids,” he said. “You know, 600, 700 meters long of compacted human beings trying to get to one little choke point. It was terrible.”

“In 20 years, I never saw an operating force more sleep-deprived or just working more than these Marines and other airmen and soldiers that were on the ground,” he added.

Denman, who is in touch with people still in Kabul, said he’s hearing the same theme in the wake of the attack: “It was just carnage.”

Aug 27, 7:49 am
‘Every effort was made to destroy’ Kabul embassy staff details, UK says

The United Kingdom said “every effort was made to destroy sensitive material” when British embassy staff in Kabul evacuated their building as Taliban fighters approached Afghanistan’s capital.

“We have worked tirelessly to secure the safety of those who worked for us including getting three families to safety,” a spokesperson for the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told ABC News in a statement Friday. “During the drawdown of our Embassy every effort was made to destroy sensitive material.”

A report published Thursday by British daily national newspaper The Times said its journalist found papers with the contact details of Afghans working for the U.K. government and of locals applying for positions “scattered on the ground at the British embassy compound in Kabul that has been seized by the Taliban.” Some Afghan employees and their families have not been able to evacuate Kabul, according to The Times.

A source at the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told ABC News: “We are grateful to The Times for sharing the information retrieved with us and working with us to enable us to get these three families to safety.”

Aug 27, 6:59 am
US, allies evacuate 12,500 people from Kabul in past 24 hours

The United States has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of some 105,000 people from Kabul since Aug. 14, when the Taliban closed in on Afghanistan’s capital, according to a White House official.

In a 24-hour period from Thursday to Friday, 35 U.S. military flights carried approximately 8,500 evacuees out of Kabul. Another 4,000 people were evacuated via 54 coalition aircraft. Since the end of July, approximately 110,600 people have been relocated from Kabul via U.S. military and coalition flights, the White House

Aug 27, 6:18 am
Philadelphia airport to receive Afghan refugees

People fleeing Afghanistan are expected to arrive at Philadelphia’s primary airport in the coming days, according to a city spokesperson.

“This is a federal-led operation, and we are collaborating with the federal government in this emergency response, protecting the rights and dignity of the Afghan families arriving in the country,” the spokesperson told ABC News on Friday. “We stand ready to provide medical assistance, housing, and connection to our diverse community of immigrant service providers who can assist with an array of social services.”

The Philadelphia International Airport is the second airport in the United States to welcome arrivals of Afghan refugees, in addition to the Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

It was unclear when or exactly how many Afghan refugees would be landing in Philadelphia.

“Philadelphia stands in solidarity with Afghan refugees and we look forward to providing them a safe haven in our Welcoming City,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement.

Aug 27, 5:33 am
UK enters final stages of Afghanistan evacuation

The United Kingdom announced Friday that it has entered the final stages of its evacuation from Afghanistan and no more people will be called to the airport to leave.

Processing facilities at the Baron Hotel in Kabul, outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport, have been closed and the British Armed Forces will now focus on evacuating the U.K. nationals and others who have already been processed and are at the airport awaiting departure, according to a press release from the U.K. Ministry of Defense.

“The U.K.’s ability to process further cases is now extremely reduced and additional numbers will be limited. No further people will be called forward to the airport for evacuation,” the defense ministry said. “Evacuating all those civilians we have already processed will free up the capacity needed on U.K. military aircraft to bring out our remaining diplomats and military personnel.”

U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace called it a “remarkable achievement” that his government has evacuated more than 13,000 people from Kabul since Aug. 13, when the Taliban closed in on Afghanistan’s capital.

“Our top priority as we move through this process will be the protection of all those involved who are operating in a heightened threat environment,” Wallace said in a statement Friday. “It is with deep regret that not everyone has been able to be evacuated during this process.”

“We will continue to honour our debt to all those who have not yet been able to leave Afghanistan,” he added. “We will do all that we can to ensure they reach safety.”

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