13 US service members were killed in an explosive terrorist attack at Kabul’s airport, US military says

US soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan
US military personnel stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans seeking to flee the country sit on a road outside the airport in Kabul, August 20, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images
  • Twin explosions rocked the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday.
  • The US military said that 13 US service members were killed in the attack, and at least 18 others were wounded.
  • There were also reports of dozens of civilian deaths and even more injuries.
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More than a dozen US service members were killed on Thursday in a terrorist attack outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, where evacuations are ongoing, according to the US military.

“We can confirm that a number of US service members were killed in today’s complex attack at Kabul airport,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement. “A number of others are being treated for wounds.”

In a follow-on press briefing Thursday afternoon, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said that at least 12 US service members were killed, and at least 15 others were wounded.

Hours after the briefing, CENTCOM sent out an update, announcing that a thirteenth US service member died from “wounds suffered as a result of the attack.” The command added that the number of injured has risen to 18.

Thursday’s deaths mark the first US military combat deaths in Afghanistan since February 2020. Thursday also marks one of the deadliest days of the Afghan war for US forces.

“We continue to provide the best possible medical care to those injured,” CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said. “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the injured and to the friends and family of those who were killed.

A “number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack” as well, Kirby said in his earlier statement on the attack.

On Friday morning, an official who wished to remain anonymous told the Associated Press that at least 95 Afghans were killed in Thursday’s bombings in addition to the 13 US service members who were killed, bringing the death toll well past 100.

The New York Times reported that an additional 120 to 140 people were injured.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and injured,” Kirby said.

The deadly attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport began with an explosion outside Abbey Gate, one of only a handful of airport access points where thousands of people have crowded for days in an attempt to board evacuation flights out of Afghanistan. That initial blast was followed by gunfire and a second explosion nearby.

McKenzie blamed the Islamic State for carrying out the attack outside the airport.

He told reporters that “ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing the mission” and that the US military will pursue those responsible. He added that he expects these attacks to continue and that the US military is preparing for that.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressed his “deepest condolences to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and wounded” in a statement on Thursday afternoon, writing that “terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others.”

US officials have been warning about potential threats posed by the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.

Highlighting the threats faced by US service members at the Kabul airport, President Joe Biden said earlier this week that “every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both US and allied forces and innocent civilians.”

The Biden administration has faced criticism for its handling of the withdrawal of US citizens and Afghan allies from the country, which was quickly overrun by the Taliban as the US withdrew. The ongoing evacuation efforts have helped tens of thousands of people flee the country but have been marred at times by scenes of chaos and death.

In his statement on Thursday’s attack and the fallen US troops, Austin said: “We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief. But we will not be dissuaded from the task at hand.”

“To do anything less – especially now – would dishonor the purpose and sacrifice these men and women have rendered our country and the people of Afghanistan,” he added.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with comments from Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.