Boris Johnson Confirms UK Evacuation From Afghanistan Will Continue Despite “Barbaric Terrorist Attack" At Kabul Airport
US officials have confirmed reports of an explosion outside Kabul airport (Alamy)
Boris Johnson has confirmed the UK will continue its evacuation operation from Afghanistan despite today’s “barbaric” terror attack.
The prime minister was speaking after chairing an emergency Cobr meeting following the news bombs had been detonated outside Kabul airport, killing many.
"I can confirm that there's been a barbaric terrorist attack, what looks like a series of attacks, in Kabul, on the airport, on the crowds at the airport, in which members of the US military, very sadly have lost their lives and many Afghan casualties as well,” he said.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed shortly before 3pm GMT on Thursday that an explosion had taken place outside Hamid Karzai International airport.
In a later statement Kirby said: "We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties."
"We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate."
Abbey Gate is close to the Baron Hotel, where many British nationals had been told to go for processing in order to leave the country.
There have also been unconfirmed reports of an eruption of gunfire following the blast.
After discussions with senior government and military officials in Downing Street on its impact on the evacuation programme, Johnson told reporters: "The conclusion is that we're able to continue with the programme in the way that we've been running it, according to the timetable we've got.
"That's what we're going to do because the overwhelming majority of those who are eligible have now been extracted from Afghanistan.
"We're going to work flat out, the military, the Foreign Office teams, the Home Office, the Border Force teams that are there getting people through as fast as they can still.”
He added: "We're going to keep going up until the last moment, but I want to repeat what I've been saying over the last few days - we also fully expect that those who want to leave Afghanistan after this phase one, if you like, are allowed to do that by the Taliban.
"We will use all the influence that we can bring to bear with the political or economic, diplomatic, as we said at the G7, to encourage the new authorities in Afghanistan to do that."
After reports multiple people were killed, including children, in the attack, the PM said: "I want to stress that this threat of a terrorist attack is one of the constraints that we've been operating under in Operation Pitting, in the big extraction that's been going on, and we've been ready for it, we've been prepared for it.
"And I want to stress that we're going to continue with that operation - and we're now coming towards the end of it, to the very end of it, in any event."
He added: "But, clearly, what this attack shows is the importance of continuing that work in as fast and as efficient manner as possible in the hours that remain to us, and that's what we're going to do."
This evening transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he has issued a Notice to Aviation to advise airlines to avoid Afghan air space under 25,000ft after the explosions near Kabul airport.
"Following the shocking scenes in Afghanistan today, I have issued a NOTAM (Notice to Aviation) further advising airlines to avoid Afghan airspace under 25,000ft,” he said.
“We will continue to keep this under review."
The Ministry of Defence has stated that there have been no known UK casualties following incident, but US officials are reporting "a number of US & civilian casualties".
Johnson tonight confirmed members of the US military "very sadly have lost their lives" in the attacks in Kabul, but would not be drawn on who was suspected to be behind the attack.
He explained: "I don't want to comment on intelligence matters but I think possibly one thing we could say is this: that there were almost certainly members of the Taliban who were themselves killed in this attack.
"And perhaps what it proves is the difficulty that any government is going to have in running Afghanistan, and threats that any government is going to continue to face."
Australian, US and British officials issued guidance on Wednesday night urging their nationals not to attend the airport amid fears of an imminent terrorist attack.
It was feared the crowds gathering at the airport could be targeted by Islamic State-Khorosan, that Afghan branch of ISIS which is an enemy of the Taliban.
Labour leader Keir Starmer praised "bravery of the troops at the airport" in a statement responding to the attack.
"Our thoughts are with all those killed and wounded, serving personnel supporting the evacuations and all those desperately trying to leave," he said.
"The bravery of the troops at the airport will always outweigh the cowardice of those who wish to harm us."
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy condemned the "appalling and cowardly attack on those already fleeing unimaginable horrors" in a statement on Twitter.
"My thoughts are with the Afghan people and the British, US and international personnel who have remained at the airport to save as many lives as possible," she said.
Speaking to PoliticsHome, army veteran and Labour MP Dan Jarvis described the incident as "Devastating but not surprising".
"[It] underscores the extremely dangerous conditions that our service personnel and diplomatic staff are operating under and the huge security challenges to come," he said.
"Immediate priority will be to assess risk of further attacks and what impact this will have on the ongoing evacuation operation.
He added: "It also reinforces the need for UK contingency plans to receive and process entitled personnel in neighbouring countries.”
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs select committee who is also a veteran of Afghanistan, said the pattern for incidents like this was "well established".
"The attack on innocent people at Kabul airport simply trying to escape the horror of Taliban rule shows exactly who the group has brought with them," he said.
"The pattern is well established – from Nigeria and Mali to Syria and Iraq whenever Islamist extremists take power, terror follows."
Armed forces minister James Heappey warned earlier on Thursday that an attack in Kabul was feared within “hours” as he set out the severity of the situation.
“I can't stress the desperation of the situation enough. There is a threat. It is credible. It is imminent. It is lethal," he said this morning.
Writing on Twitter, Tory former minister Nus Ghani said she was on the phone to an individual in Kabul when she heard the explosion in the background.
"Praying that he gets away safely and we get his family safe passage out of this nightmare," she said.
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