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US General says only one suicide bomber attacked Kabul airport not two

Army Major General William Taylor

The Pentagon said on Friday that the deadly attack at the gate to Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Thursday in which over 100 people were killed was carried out by one suicide bomber and not two as was being initially thought.

"I can confirm for you that we do not believe that there was a second explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, that it was one suicide bomber," Army Major General William Taylor told reporters.

Taylor said U.S. troops wounded in the attack were being treated in Germany.

Earlier reports had said that while one explosion had taken place in front of the Abbey Gate to Kabul airport through which most of the evacuations were taken place, a second smaller explosion happened near Baron Hotel nearby.

The Islamic State's Afghan unit, ISIS-Khorosan, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

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Earlier Geneneral Kenneth McKenzie, the head of US Central Command also blamed the attacks on the ISIS terrorist group and warned that the threat of more attacks is “extremely real.”

“We expect those attacks to continue, and we’re doing everything we can to prepare for those attacks.”

McKenzie said the United States was prepared to use attack aircraft , including AC-130 gunships to defend the airport if necessary. "We'll be prepared to do that, should it become necessary to defend the base," he said.

He said the mission to fly out American citizens and at-risk Afghans who helped US troops from Kabul airport would continue undeterred by the twin bombings that killed 11 marines and a medic, and injured 15.

Howecver, NATO forces have wound up their evacuation missions from Afghanistan ahead of the August 31 deadline set by the US for troop withdrawal. While some EU countries announced their last flights on Thursday five days ahead of the deadline, Britain said on Friday that it plans to complete its evacuations out of Afghanistan "in a matter of hours."

France has also announced that it will end its evacuation operations from Kabul on Friday. 

The decisions appear to have been taken in view the sharp deterioration in the security situation at Kabul.

According to Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), the Netherlands said it will carry out its last evacuation flight from Kabul on Thursday. 

Denmark said its last flight carrying troops and diplomats had already left Kabul's airport.

Poland and Belgium have already ended their evacuations and withdrawn all military personnel from Afghanistan.

Hungary said its army had evacuated all Hungarian citizens from Afghanistan.

The DW report said the German military has completed its airlift operations from Kabul airport.

Earlier before the blasts took place, a spokesperson for the German Defence Ministry had told DW that the security situation at the Kabul airport had “deteriorated further and the threat of a terror attack is becoming increasingly concrete."

Through the airlift efforts, Germany's Bundeswehr managed to safely evacuate over 5,100 people, including more than 3,600 Afghans.

Also read:  After twin suicide bombings at Kabul airport, has Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) just announced that it is a formidable force in Afghanistan?

Local reports put the total death toll including civilians who were killed in the suicide bombings at around 60, with more than 100 injured.

McKenzie highlighted concerns that ISIS is seeking to get a vehicle-based suicide bomb onto the airport where almost 6,000 American service members are managing the evacuation effort.

He also mentioned that the terrorists had plans to “lob” rockets into the airport, but said anti-rocket systems in place will be able to neutralize that threat.

A Taliban official told Reuters the group arrested an ISIS fighter at the airport a few days ago and under interrogation he told them about plans for attacks. In response, the Taliban said it postponed gatherings in public places and advised its top leaders not to gather.

McKenzie said in an attempt to limit overall risk, the US has asked the Taliban to extend its security perimeter and close down a number of streets headed to the airport.

However, this is expected to make it more difficult for people to reach the airport for evacuation.

American leaders have reached “out to the Taliban who are actually providing the outer security cordon around the airfield, to make sure they know what we expect them to do to protect us and we will continue to coordinate with them as they go forward,” McKenzie said.

He said he doesn’t believe the Taliban helped plot the attack, given both tensions between the Taliban and ISIS and the fact the Taliban have a vested interest in seeing the Americans leave the country.

“I don’t think there’s anything to convince me” that Taliban let it happen, he said. “They have a practical reason for wanting us to get out of here by the 31st of August. As long as we’ve kept that common purpose aligned, they’ve been useful to work with.”