KABUL, Afghanistan — Crowds returned to Kabul’s airport Friday in an increasingly desperate attempt to escape the country after suicide bombings killed more than 100 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.
Evacuation flights resumed with fresh urgency as U.S. forces braced for further attacks ahead of President Joe Biden’s deadline to withdraw from the country.
America’s longest war will soon end in the shadow of Thursday’s blasts, which targeted U.S. troops and the thousands of civilians seeking to flee the Taliban’s takeover.
By early Friday the growing number of dead had reached 113 Afghans, according to an unnamed Health Ministry source. At least 180 people were injured.
The Islamic State terror group‘s Afghan affiliate claimed responsibility for the “martyrdom attack” outside Kabul airport, which involved two suicide bombers who detonated explosive belts at the airport’s gate.
Video taken in the aftermath showed civilian bodies in a sewage ditch, their efforts to escape a militant group’s rule destroyed by a far more radical terror group.
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The airport has been a hub for violent and chaotic scenes since the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15.
The group’s fighters have patrolled the area outside the airport, using force at checkpoints but struggling to bring order or screen those seeking access to the airport.
Each day civilians have gathered in the sweltering heat, risking everything in a bid to make it out — or let their children do so.
On Friday the crowds were smaller, and faced an even taller task.
One man, Ahmadullah Herawi, told The Associated Press that he believed an explosion could occur at any moment, but risked going to the airport anyway.
“Believe me, I think that an explosion will happen any second or minute, God is my witness,” he said. “But we have lots of challenges in our lives, that is why we take the risk to come here and we overcome fear.”
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said commanders were on alert for more attacks by ISIS-K, including rockets or car bombs targeting the airport.
“We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,” he said.
The president vowed to respond “with force” to the terrorists behind the attacks in an emotional speech from the White House.
But some U.S. allies have said they are ending their airlifts.
Britain said Friday its evacuations from Afghanistan will end within hours, and the main British processing center for eligible Afghans has been closed.
The Spanish government said it has ended its evacuation operation. And France said it will end its evacuation operation “soon” but may seek to extend it until after Friday night.
After a shaky start, the pace of evacuations has increased in recent days.
More than 105,000 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14, according to the White House. Since the end of July, U.S. officials have relocated approximately 110,600 people, it added.
McKenzie said Thursday that there were about 1,000 Americans still in Afghanistan, but that not all of them wanted to leave the country.
The U.S. has had boots on the ground in Afghanistan since 2001, when it invaded and toppled the Taliban regime after the group sheltered Osama bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda and the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks.
The war has cost the lives of around 2,300 U.S. troops, leaving thousands more wounded. More than 100,000 Afghans are estimated to have been killed or wounded since the conflict began.
Ahmed Mengli reported from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Rhea Mogul reported from Hong Kong.
Mushtaq Yusufzai contributed.
More than 100 killed in Kabul attack as evacuations resume, Afghans return to airport despite ISIS threat is written by Rhea Mogul and Mushtaq Yusufzai for www.nbcnews.com