Explosion & gunshots heard at Kabul airport as desperate Afghans have just hours to flee Taliban
KABUL airport has been hit by an explosion as desperate Afghans have just hours to flee the Taliban.
It comes after officials admitted there is a “very real risk” of an ISIS attack as thousands continue to descend on the airport in the capital in a frantic bid to escape.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said: “We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can.”
It comes after an Italian military plane with 100 Afghans on board was hit by gunfire earlier today.
The plane was not damaged in the incident, a source at Italy’s Defence Ministry said.
An Italian journalist traveling on the flight told Sky 24 TG the plane had been carrying almost 100 Afghan civilians when it came under fire minutes after take off.
It’s not clear whether the shots were aimed at the military plane.
Italian intelligence sources believe the plane was struck by shots fired into the air to disperse a crowd near the airport, a government source told Reuters.
It comes amid unconfirmed reports of crowds being hit by flashbangs and gunfire at Kabul airport’s military side.
Armed forces minister James Heappey today described the terror threat to people outside Kabul airport as “lethal” amid concerns over the affiliate of the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan – ISIS-K.
“I can’t stress the desperation of the situation enough, the threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“And we wouldn’t be saying this if we weren’t genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target.”
Heappey warned a possible terror attack in Kabul could come within “hours”.
He told LBC: “I was given lines today for what might happen if the attack happened while I was doing this media round.”
He added: “I don’t think everybody should be surprised by this, Daesh, or Islamic State, are guilty of all sorts of evil.
“But the opportunism of wanting to target a major international humanitarian mission is just utterly deplorable but sadly true to form for an organisation as barbarous as Daesh.”
And Colonel Richard Kemp, former head of British forces in Afghanistan, said the threat of a terror attack at the airport “has existed right the way from when this evacuation began”.
“That threat of terrorist attack, whether it’s from Taliban, the Islamic State, or al Qaida, it could equally be all three of those groups,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“The fact that people are talking about Islamic State doesn’t make that the most likely threat.
“I think that threat has existed right the way from when this evacuation began, and I have no doubt that our forces are fully aware of the threat and already, for days now, have been taking measures to try and mitigate it, to prevent something like that happening.
“But, clearly, there could be a terrorist attack of some sort against the forces in the airport, maybe forces outside the airport, and of course the people trying to get in.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The security situation in Afghanistan remains volatile.
“There is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack. Do not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport.
“If you are in the area of the airport, move away to a safe location and await further advice.”
Heappey said there will be 11 more flights out of Kabul today – but declined to say whether there will be more on Friday, citing the security of troops.
Meanwhile Defence Secretary Ben Wallace yesterday said Afghans should stay away from the airfield – where the terror group is taking over.
‘MAKE IT TO THE BORDER’
Questioned about what Afghans who have been offered student places or fellowships in the UK should do, Mr Wallace said: “If they think they can make it to a third country, that may be a better option.”
Pressed by a Tory backbencher, Mr Wallace added: “I recommend that they try and make it to the border … because it is higher profile going to the airport – that is where the Taliban will be focusing their efforts at the moment.”
It comes as ministers said it was almost certain that people would be stranded after the Taliban ordered troops to quit by August 31 — and US President Joe Biden agreed.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insists the country is working “as fast as we can” to rescue thousands of British nationals and Afghans at risk of reprisals.
But the clock is ticking for the 6,000 US troops and roughly 1,000 Paras who will need time to coordinate their retreat.
The US marines and 82nd Airborne Division troops are expected to retreat in stages, collapsing their perimeter and ceding ground to the Taliban each time their numbers shrink.
Mr Raab added: “We’re going to keep going for every day and every hour that we’ve got left.”
The Taliban said the deadline of August 31 was a red line and not negotiable.
We’re going to keep going for every day and every hour that we’ve got left.
Sources suggested the military would plan to leave before then in case something went wrong.
At Heathrow, thousands of Afghans began pouring into the UK yesterday as commercial flights opened up a new escape route.
Desperate families fleeing the Taliban — some wearing no shoes and with no belongings — began flooding into Terminal 4.
Troops marshalled their arrival and Army teams set up a processing centre before they were ferried to undisclosed hotel locations.
The first three flights — delayed by the chaos as the airport in Kabul — arrived on Tuesday with eight more due yesterday.
Commercial carriers, including Ethiopian Airlines, were ferrying hundreds into Britain.
Home Secretary Priti Patel had visited the Border Force staff and troops running the operation late on Tuesday evening.
She tweeted her praise for the teams: “Safeguarding brave Afghan staff and their families who risked their lives working with the UK.”
But it was unclear last night how many of those arriving were interpreters and staff who had helped British Forces during the 20-year campaign in Afghanistan.
Safeguarding brave Afghan staff and their families who risked their lives working with the UK.
Home Office staff declined to give details — insisting they were unwilling to “provide a running commentary” — or say where refugees were being taken.
But large groups were pictured being led out of Terminal 4 on to buses yesterday.
Heathrow source said: “Some of the arrivals have luggage and are quite well dressed but others look absolutely desperate — it’s so sad.
“Several have arrived without shoes and the Red Cross are having to find them clothes.
“Hundreds came on Tuesday on three planes but there were supposed to be five, so things obviously are not going entirely to plan.
“There were due to be eight more flights coming on Wednesday but more delays and confusion are expected with time running out.
“The ones we saw looked exhausted but relieved. They know they are the lucky ones.”