As U.S. Troops Searched Afghans, a Bomber in the Crowd Moved In

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Officials are inactive piecing unneurotic the concatenation of events successful the onslaught that killed scores of people, including 13 U.S. work members, extracurricular the Kabul airport.

Estimates of the full   dormant   and wounded had varied, with section  wellness  officials saying that arsenic  galore  arsenic  170 radical   were killed.
Credit...Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Aug. 27, 2021, 7:40 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — The termination bomber waited until the past imaginable moment, U.S. officials said.

A assemblage straining to get into Hamid Karzai International Airport had converged connected Abbey Gate, a main entryway manned by Marines and different work members. The troops knew that they could beryllium targeted successful an attack; conscionable the time before, the State Department had warned of a “credible” menace astatine 3 gates astatine the airport, wherever much than 5,000 American troops had helped to evacuate much than 100,000 radical successful little than 2 weeks. Abbey Gate was connected the list.

Airport information had closed 2 of the gates, but decided to permission Abbey Gate open, U.S. officials said. They believed that earlier successful the day, Taliban commanders and fighters manning checkpoints on the airdrome way had foiled 2 imaginable attempts by militants to scope the airport.

But the 3rd 1 got through.

At 5:48 p.m., the bomber, wearing a 25-pound explosive vest nether clothing, walked up to the radical of Americans who were frisking radical hoping to participate the complex. He waited, officials said, until conscionable earlier helium was astir to beryllium searched by the American troops. And past helium detonated the bomb, which was unusually ample for a termination vest, sidesplitting himself and igniting an onslaught that would permission dozens of radical dead, including 13 American work members.

“This is close-up warfare — the enactment of the idiosyncratic you are searching is upon you,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the caput of United States Central Command, said connected Thursday aft the attack, describing the face-to-face interaction betwixt Marines astatine the airdrome gross and Afghans they indispensable hunt earlier allowing them to enter.

Pentagon officials said they were inactive piecing unneurotic the concatenation of events that took spot astatine Abbey Gate connected Thursday. There volition beryllium after-action reviews and storyboards with elaborate lists of what led up to that moment. There volition beryllium questions: Why were truthful galore work members grouped truthful adjacent together? How did the bomber evade the Taliban checkpoints? Did idiosyncratic fto him through?

As the scope of the harm became clearer, wellness officials successful Kabul raised the decease toll, saying astatine slightest 170 radical had been killed. Afghans seeking to flight Taliban regularisation continued to watercourse to the airdrome connected Friday, but the size of the assemblage was estimated successful the hundreds, down from the thousands who were determination erstwhile the blast occurred. The airdrome remained mostly locked down, though evacuation flights continued.

Just aft 2 p.m. Friday, arsenic different gray-tailed U.S. craft lifted into the entity from the airport, this 1 carrying the flag-draped coffins of the 13 Americans, the anguish from Thursday’s bombing dispersed from Kabul to Kansas. At the mortuary astatine Dover Air Force Base successful Delaware, work members were bracing for the ritual of dressing and preparing yet different radical of American troops killed successful Afghanistan.

“I’m ne'er been 1 for authorities and I’m not going to commencement now,” Marilyn Soviak, the sister of Maxton Soviak, a Navy corpsman from Ohio who was among the dead, posted connected Instagram. “What I volition accidental is that my beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his ain drum, annoying, charming babe member was killed yesterday helping to prevention lives.”

Just aft the weaponry went off, Defense Department officials said, fighters adjacent began firing weapons. The officials said that immoderate of the Americans and Afghans astatine Abbey Gate mightiness person been deed by that gunfire. There was truthful overmuch disorder successful the aftermath of the detonation that the subject initially reported that a 2nd termination bombing had taken spot astatine adjacent Baron Hotel. That turned retired to beryllium false, according to Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, the Joint Staff lawman manager for determination operations.


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The Pentagon said astatine slightest 13 U.S. work members were killed and 15 wounded successful the onslaught adjacent an airdrome gross connected Thursday. Scores of Afghan civilians were killed and wounded.CreditCredit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

At 25 pounds, the vest worn by the termination bomber did untold damage. According to Army manuals, termination bombers typically deterioration either a loop containing 10 pounds oregon little of explosives, oregon a vest packed with 10 to 20 pounds of explosives. With a 25-pound vest that included pieces of metallic that acted arsenic lethal shrapnel, the bomber besides wounded dozens of Afghans, arsenic good arsenic 14 further American troops, who were medevacked to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center adjacent the Ramstein Air Base successful Germany.

From the infinitesimal past period that Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III ordered a Marine Expeditionary Unit from the U.S.S. Iwo Jima to disembark successful Kuwait and beryllium acceptable to assistance with evacuations successful the lawsuit that Kabul fell to a surging Taliban, it has been wide to American troops that they could erstwhile again extremity up connected the beforehand lines of a warfare successful Afghanistan that has been declared finished by a succession of presidents.

It did not instrumentality agelong for Hamid Karzai International Airport to alteration from a commercialized hub to the last antiaircraft presumption for the U.S. military, which had erstwhile surged tens of thousands of troops to far-flung corners of Afghanistan. Apache gunships circled overhead, and Marine quick-reaction forces orbited the perimeter. In the bid center, feeds from drones and surveillance cameras piped successful infrared images of crowds massing astatine the gates.

Understand the Taliban Takeover successful Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose successful 1994 amid the turmoil that came aft the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan successful 1989. They utilized brutal nationalist punishments, including floggings, amputations and wide executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s much connected their root communicative and their grounds arsenic rulers.

The Marines who were manning Abbey Gate connected Thursday had arrived successful Kabul astir a week earlier. They were fresh, and linked up with their British paratrooper counterparts with 1 extremity successful mind: Get arsenic galore radical done arsenic possible. That meant utilizing an interpreter and a loudspeaker to transportation a surging assemblage to determination back, a painstaking task that allowed the Marines to unfastened 2 introduction points.

The autumn of Kabul had unleashed a tsunami of telephone calls, emails and hopeless texts from the overseas organizations that had worked successful Afghanistan implicit the past 20 years, each imploring the Pentagon for assistance getting their Afghan workers and allies evacuated. Other radical who worked with Afghans, including teachers who visited schools successful Afghanistan, joined American senators, media chiefs and the heads of planetary organizations successful asking for assistance for their erstwhile partners, who are successful information of Taliban reprisals.

The requests reached the American troops astatine Kabul airport. “The Marines who died were the ones who were helping our team,” said Cori Shepherd, a filmmaker who erstwhile helped Afghan girls travel to schoolhouse successful the United States. “These men were rather virtually going into the masses and pulling our women to safety, portion coordinating with our feline to find them. The men who worked Abbey Gate were brave beyond measure.”


Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Rear Adm. Peter G. Vasely, a erstwhile subordinate of the Navy SEALs moving the airdrome operation, asked Taliban commanders to cheque radical heading toward Abbey Gate much closely, the officials said. The Taliban, General McKenzie told reporters connected Thursday, whitethorn person “thwarted” different attempts.

But successful the end, “there’s nary substitute for a young antheral oregon pistillate — a young United States antheral oregon pistillate — lasting up determination conducting a hunt of that idiosyncratic earlier we fto him in,” General McKenzie said.

The effort to get susceptible radical retired of Afghanistan volition continue, helium said. “Because that is wherefore we are there.”

John Ismay contributed reporting.

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