Boris Johnson and Joe Biden have condemned a terrorist attack on Kabul airport that killed dozens of people and vowed to continue the military evacuation effort until the August 31 deadline.
Officials have said at least 13 US troops were killed alongside 60 Afghan nationals, while more than 150 people were injured, including 15 US service personnel, in a “complex attack” on Thursday outside Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The Prime Minister said the “overwhelming majority” of eligible people have already been helped to flee the Taliban by the RAF and British forces would “keep going up until the last moment” to evacuate others despite the “barbaric” incident.
Meanwhile, addressing the American people, the US president said their own airlift operation would “not be deterred by terrorists”.
He said the attack, consisting of two bombings and gunfire, was believed to have been carried out by an affiliate of the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan, Isis-K, adding: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
The Ministry of Defence said there have been no reported UK military or UK Government casualties.
On Thursday night the MoD confirmed the UK has so far evacuated 13,146 British nationals, Afghans, embassy staff and nationals from partner nations since August 13.
I utterly condemn the barbaric terrorist attack in Kabul in which Afghans and members of the US military lost their lives.
The threat of terrorist attack is one of the constraints we’ve been operating under, but our evacuation effort continues with over 12,000 extracted so far. pic.twitter.com/DXCFPj9KQC
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) August 26, 2021
After chairing an emergency Cobra meeting on Thursday, Mr Johnson said: “I can confirm that there’s been a barbaric terrorist attack, what looks like a series of attacks, in Kabul, on the airport, on the crowds at the airport, in which members of the US military, very sadly have lost their lives and many Afghan casualties as well.”
The Prime Minister told reporters in Downing Street the evacuation programme would work “flat out” according to “the timetable we’ve got”.
He said: “I want to stress that we’re going to continue with that operation. And we’re now coming towards the end of it, to the very end of it, in any event. And we’ve already extracted the overwhelming majority of those under both the schemes, the eligible persons, the UK persons, UK nationals, plus the Afghans, the interpreters, and others.
“And it’s been a totally phenomenal effort by the UK, there’s been nothing like it for decades and decades.”
UK ministers were among those across the international community who paid tribute to the victims of the attack.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost loved ones in these senseless attacks today at Kabul airport.
“I send my deepest condolences to the families of the American victims and offer my full support to our closest ally.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “This evening I called US secretary of state Antony Blinken to express our sorrow that US troops lost their lives in Kabul today and that more have been injured. They paid the ultimate sacrifice while helping others reach safety.
“I also want to extend my condolences to the families of all those Afghans killed or injured. It is tragic that as they sought safety they have suffered at the hands of terrorists.
“Today’s attack is a stark reminder of the dangerous situation in which UK military and civilian personnel have been working so hard to evacuate people and we should be proud of their bravery and what they have achieved.”
Meanwhile Transport Secretary Grant Shapps issued an aviation notice further advising airlines to avoid Afghan air space under 25,000 feet.
Earlier this week the US rejected calls from the UK to extend their deadline to pull troops out past August 31, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on Thursday that US forces still intend to leave Afghanistan on that date.
Mr Johnson had vowed “we’ll do everything we can to get everybody else” before the deadline for British troops to depart in advance of the exit of US forces, after US President Joe Biden refused his request to extend the time frame.
But the PM conceded that although the “lion’s share” of eligible Afghans have been removed from the country, “there will be people who still need help”.
The US is providing security at Kabul airport, meaning other allied forces are expected to have to wind down their evacuation efforts and depart ahead of the Americans.
In his press conference, President Biden said the US would now focus on finding the culprits of the attack “without large military operations”.
He added: “With regard to finding, tracking down, the Isis leaders who ordered this, we have some reason to believe we know who they are, we are not certain, and we will find ways of our choosing, without large military operations, to get them wherever they are.”