Multiple people have been killed in at least two explosions in a suspected terror attack near Kabul airport following warnings a strike would be launched in the final phase of the evacuation effort.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed two blasts occurred in a “complex attack” outside Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday, and there were “a number of US and civilian casualties”.
The Ministry of Defence said there had been no UK military or Government casualties reported at an early stage.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said at least 13 people were killed and 15 wounded in twin suicide attacks outside the airport, which has been the centre of the effort to help people flee Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Defence did not confirm or deny whether Isis-K was believed to be behind the explosions, after earlier warnings about the affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Afghanistan.
But an anonymous US official said the blasts were “definitely believed to be” carried out by IS.
Mr Kirby said at least one explosion took place at or near the Baron Hotel, where the UK has been processing Britons and Afghans eligible for evacuation after the Taliban seized control of the nation.
A short distance away, he said another blast occurred near the Abbey Gate of Kabul’s airport.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was preparing to chair an emergency Cobra meeting later on Thursday after being updated on the situation.
Armed forces minister James Heappey had warned that there was “very credible reporting” of an “imminent” and “severe” terror threat.
He had urged people queuing outside the airport trying to flee the Taliban to move to safety amid concerns surrounding the IS terror cell.
Alicia Kearns, a member of the foreign affairs and national security strategy committees, said there had been “many hurt” in an attack at the Baron Hotel.
The Conservative MP tweeted: “A bomb or attack with gun fire at northern gate of Baron’s Hotel. Worried this will devastate evacuation – so many hurt. My heart is with all those injured and killed.”
Her colleague Nus Ghani said she was on the phone to somebody outside Kabul airport when the blast took place.
“Explosion at Kabul airport. I was on the phone to an Afghan outside the airport when he heard the explosion,” the MP tweeted.
She later said he was “OK” and was heading to a “safe house”.
The Ministry of Defence said it is “working urgently” to establish what happened in Kabul and “its impact on the ongoing evacuation effort”.
“Our primary concern remains the safety of our personnel, British citizens and the citizens of Afghanistan,” a statement added.
For the US military, Mr Kirby tweeted: “We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties.
“We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.”
Former Royal Marine Paul Farthing, the founder of an animal shelter in Kabul who has has been campaigning to get his staff and animals evacuated, said his vehicle outside the airport was caught in the “chaos”.
Known as Pen, he told the PA news agency: “All of a sudden we heard gunshots and our vehicle was targeted, had our driver not turned around he would have been shot in the head by a man with an AK-47.
“We’ve been in the airport, and back out of the airport; the whole thing’s a mess.”
A local witness told PA he heard the explosion by Kabul airport as he was walking to evening prayer.
Ahmad, whose name has been changed for security reasons, said he is safe as he was some distance from the blast.
“First was explosion, and then firing started, I mean… heavy gunfire,” he said.
“But even far away people were running… there’s alarm.”
Ahmad has been hoping to flee Afghanistan but said there has been “no way” to access the airport in recent days and “tens of thousands of people” outside it.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the reports from Kabul are “devastating”, adding: “Our thoughts are with all those killed and wounded, serving personnel supporting the evacuations and all those desperately trying to leave.
“The bravery of the troops at the airport will always outweigh the cowardice of those who wish to harm us.”
The evacuation effort was already under extra strain after a warning on Wednesday night from the Foreign Office for UK nationals near the airport to leave and head for safety due to the “ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack”.
The Prime Minister said the following morning that time is running out for the evacuation effort, as the US’s deadline of next Tuesday for the withdrawal of its remaining troops is fast approaching.
Mr Johnson said the “overwhelming majority” of eligible people have now been evacuated from Afghanistan, but he conceded the time left is now “quite short”.
He 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 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”.
Mr Heappey said Britain had 11 flights scheduled out of Kabul on Thursday but declined to say whether that will be the end of the operation, citing the security of troops on the ground.
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.
Mr Heappey had said eight RAF flights managed to lift 1,988 people from Kabul within the past 24 hours, taking the total since the Taliban began its march to power to 12,279.
With the main route to flee under threat, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace reportedly told MPs that crossing the Afghanistan border in order to leave would be a “better option”.
On Wednesday, it was believed nearly 2,000 people assessed as eligible under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) remained on the ground.
But Mr Heappey said the number outstanding is now “potentially half” of the previous estimate.