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The Latest On The Explosions Outside Kabul's Airport


At least two blasts in Kabul today outside the airport where thousands of people have been gathering for days, trying to get out of the country and to safety. There had been fears of just such an attack for days. NPR's Jackie Northam joins us with the latest. Jackie, what do we know about what happened?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, the Pentagon (inaudible) informed that there have been two explosions, and one of them was at the Abbey Gate entrance to the airport, and that's the (inaudible) entrance. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that that explosion was a result of what he called a complex attack that resulted in a number of U.S. and civilian casualties. You know, Leila, this is all still unfolding...

FADEL: Yeah.

NORTHAM: ...So we don't know the numbers of people injured or dead, but hopefully we'll get some more information soon. The other attack was at the Baron Hotel, and this was where a lot of Americans were staying while they waited for a flight out of Kabul. And just the other day, the U.S. military sent in helicopters to the roof of that hotel to shuttle people over. It's a very, very short distance, but it does give you an idea of just how dangerous it is around the Kabul airport. And, you know, even after these explosions, witnesses that spoke with NPR said there was a lot of gunfire for about 15 minutes.

And then just finally, President Biden has been in the White House Situation Room with his top national security aides talking about this, and he was briefed on the explosion.

FADEL: Now, they had been worried about an attack like this for days and had decided to stick to the August 31 deadline. What have the specific threats been?

NORTHAM: Well, you're right. The White House, the Pentagon and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul have been warning of a credible threat of an attack near the airport, and this is from the Islamist militant group ISIS-K, and it's the local ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan. You know, because of this, several Western countries have told their nationals stay away from the airport over a fear of a suicide bombing. And even yesterday, Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul urged Americans outside of the gates of the airport to leave immediately. They were citing security threats.

But, you know, Leila - you know, there's still thousands of people, mostly Afghans, some forced to continue to gather outside the airport just to try and get out of Afghanistan once the Taliban take over and before U.S. troop withdrawal deadline in - you know, in the coming days. Some countries have already wound down their evacuation operations, and the U.S. is, you know, as you said, due to end its efforts there on August 31. But there are still about 1,500 U.S. citizens still inside the country.

FADEL: You know, just devastating images are coming out already of the devastation. I know we don't know the number of wounded or dead, but what do we know about the evacuation efforts? How many are out? How many are left?

NORTHAM: Right. Well, the White House says about 13,400 people were evacuated from Afghanistan just in the past 24 hours, and that brings the total up to about 95,700. So it'll be probably 100,000 by this time, I'm going to air (laughter). You're right. There's a chaotic mix going on there. And it's, you know - there's a crush of people desperate to get out. And right now they're just trying - you know, you've got that on top of the security situation. It's going to be a very, very long few days in Afghanistan.

FADEL: NPR's Jackie Northam. Thank you so much for your reporting and your time.

NORTHAM: Thanks so much, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.