And a US military commander has warned more attacks were highly likely – while US President Joe Biden vowed to “hunt down” those responsible. Mohammad Naeem told Al Jazeera TV on the gathering of a large number of people prevented adequate security measures from being taken.
The explosions, swiftly claimed by Islamic State, left a further 15 marines injured, a top US general said, adding that American forces anticipated more attacks even as evacuations continued from Afghanistan.
It marked the first US military casualties in the country since February 2020 and represents the deadliest incident for American troops in the country in a decade.
At least two explosions tore through crowds which had thronged the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport desperate to leave Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power almost two weeks ago ahead of US President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline to withdraw American troops after two decades, days before the September 11 anniversary.
In a statement, Islamic State claimed responsibility and said one of its suicide bombers had targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army.”
Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, head of the US military’s Central Command, told a news briefing the explosions were followed by gunfight. McKenzie said the threat from Islamic State persists alongside “other active threat streams”.
He said: “We believe it is their desire to continue these attacks and we expect those attacks to continue – and we’re doing everything we can to be prepared.”
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A massive airlift of US and other foreign nationals and their families as well as some Afghans has been under way since the day before Taliban forces captured Kabul on August 15, capping a swift advance across the country as American and allied troops withdrew.
The United States has been racing to carry out the airlift before its military is set to fully withdraw from the country by the end of the month.
Mr McKenzie said the evacuation mission was not going to stop, saying: “I think we can continue to conduct our mission, even while we are receiving attacks like this.”
He also emphasised that US forces will “go after” the perpetrators of Thursday’s attack.
There were about 1,000 US citizens estimated to be still in Afghanistan, Mr Mackenzie said.
A spokesperson for the State Department said more than two-thirds of these Americans had informed it they were taking steps to leave Afghanistan.
Islamic State militants have emerged in Afghanistan as enemies both of the West and the Taliban.
A 2001 US-led invasion toppled the Taliban from power after the group had harboured the al Qaeda militants responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The US military death toll in the Afghanistan war since 2001 stood at roughly 2,500.
Afghan health officials were quoted as saying 60 civilians died, but it was not clear whether that was a complete count.
Video uploaded by Afghan journalists showed dozens of bodies and wounded victims strewn around a canal on the edge of the airport.