Hours after Canada had ceased its evacuation effort, two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror.
At least 13 people were killed and 15 wounded, Russian officials said.
Canadian officials had earlier said, as they announced the end of evacuation efforts, that a small team of military personnel had been left in Afghanistan for the final extraction of the forces on the ground. The Department of National Defence confirmed that all Canadian Armed Forces members were safe and accounted for in the wake of the blast.
The deadly attack underscored the chaotic situation Canada and other nations are leaving behind in Afghanistan — and intensified the spotlight on the unknown number of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, as well as Afghan nationals looking to resettle in Canada, who have now been left behind.
Since the first arrivals in early August, Ottawa had flown a total of 3,700 people out of the Kabul airport, officials say.
The last-ditch effort ended all attempts by Canada and its allies to rescue their people and the local Afghans who worked with these forces and who are now being targeted by the Taliban in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the country.
“We stayed in Afghanistan for as long as we could. We were among the last to cease the evacuation operations. We wished we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone who was so desperate to leave,” Gen. Wayne Eyre said during a media briefing.
“That we could not is truly heartbreaking. But the circumstances on the ground rapidly deteriorated.”
A U.S. official said Thursday’s attack was believed to have been carried out by the Islamic State group. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan is far more radical than the Taliban, who recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz and condemned the attack.
Western nations had warned of a possible attack on the airport in the waning days of the massive evacuation efforts.
At least 13 people died and 15 were wounded, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which gave the first official casualty count. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also confirmed the blasts and said there were casualties but gave no figure. He said one explosion was near an airport entrance and another was a short distance away by a hotel.
Several Marines were killed and a number of other American military were wounded, a U.S. official said. It was not clear if those deaths were included in the Russian toll.
Under a special Afghan immigration program, Canada’s immigration department has received a total of 2,500 applications, including 8,000 people. About two thirds of those applications have been processed and approved, and the rest will continue to be finalized by immigration officials, said assistant deputy immigration minister Daniel Mills.
“We are not giving up,” Mills told reporters through a virtual briefing.
Cindy Termorshuizen, assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs Canada, said much remains unknown about the next days and weeks in Afghanistan.
“Both the political and the security situations in Afghanistan are very fluid. We do not know what the next government will look like, what it will be comprised of, and what its approach will be to the departure of foreign nationals or Afghan nationals,” she said.
“But we are working extremely closely with allies and other countries in the region to assess this and to explore options for continuing to support our Canadian citizens, permanent residents…and also other vulnerable Afghans.”
With files from The Canadian Press