By early Friday the growing number of dead had reached 113 civilians, according to an Afghan health ministry source.
Crowds returned to Kabul’s airport Friday in an increasingly desperate attempt to escape the country a day after a terrorist attack killed more than 100 civilians and 13 U.S. service members.
Evacuation flights resumed with fresh urgency as U.S. forces braced for more attacks ahead of President Joe Biden’s deadline Tuesday to withdraw from the country.
America’s longest war will soon end in the shadow of Thursday’s suicide bombing, which targeted U.S. troops and the thousands of civilians seeking to flee the Taliban’s takeover.
By early Friday, the number of civilians killed had grown to 113, according to an unnamed Afghan health ministry source. At least 180 people were injured.
The Islamic State terror group‘s Afghan affiliate, ISIS-K, claimed responsibility for the attack outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Video taken in the aftermath showed bodies of civilians in a sewage ditch, their efforts to escape a militant group’s rule destroyed by a far more radical terror group.
Mohamed Safer, 27, was standing outside the airport at a location where there was no Taliban presence, when he was hit during the attack.
“It was my fate that the bullet didn’t go straight (through me), and I’m alive,” he told NBC News.
Although injured, Safer survived the attack and was taken to a hospital by another person.
“Everyone was leaving the country. I was one of them,” he said. “I just wanted to leave.”
The airport has been a hub for violent and chaotic scenes since the Taliban took control of Kabul nearly two weeks ago.
The group’s fighters have patrolled the area outside the airport, using force at checkpoints but struggling to bring order or screen those seeking access to the airport.
Each day, civilians have gathered in the sweltering heat, risking everything in a bid to make it out — or make sure their children do so.
On Friday, the crowds were smaller and faced an even taller task.
One man, Ahmadullah Herawi, told The Associated Press that he believed an explosion could occur at any moment, but risked going to the airport anyway.
“Believe me, I think that an explosion will happen any second or minute, God is my witness,” he said. “But we have lots of challenges in our lives. That is why we take the risk to come here and we overcome fear.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the reporters the United States believed there are still “specific, credible” threats.
“We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts,” he said, adding, “We’re monitoring these threats, very, very specifically, virtually in real time.”
Kirby said that just under 7,000 Afghans had entered the U.S. since the operation began.
Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor also said Friday that there was a bombing only at the airport gate, not at two locations, as U.S. officials had initially said.
“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.
He added that U.S. troops wounded in the attack were now being treated in Germany.
Biden on Thursday promised to continue evacuation efforts, holding firm to his deadline of Aug. 31 for U.S. forces to complete their withdrawal despite pressure to extend it.
The president vowed to respond “with force” to the terrorists behind the attacks in an emotional speech from the White House.
But some U.S. allies have said they are ending their airlifts.
Britain said Friday its evacuations from Afghanistan will end within hours, and the main British processing center for eligible Afghans has been closed. Two British nationals and the child of a third British national were killed in Thursday’s attack at Kabul’s airport, British foreign minister Dominic Raab said Friday.
The Spanish government also said it has ended its evacuation operation. And France said it will end its evacuation operation “soon” but may seek to extend it until after Friday night.
After a shaky start, the pace of evacuations has increased in recent days.
More than 105,000 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14, according to the White House, and approximately 110,600 people have been relocated since the end of July.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday that there were about 1,000 Americans still in Afghanistan, but that not all of them wanted to leave the country.
The U.S. has had a military presence in Afghanistan since 2001, when it invaded and toppled the Taliban regime after the group sheltered Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda and the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Around 2,300 U.S. troops have been killed in the war, and thousands more wounded. More than 100,000 Afghans are estimated to have been killed or wounded since the conflict began.