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The death toll in Thursday's suicide bombing outside Kabul's airport has risen. At least 169 Afghan civilians were killed, along with 13 U.S. service members. The Defense Department said Friday it was the work of one Islamic State bomber, not two as originally reported. Meanwhile, the U.S. and allies flew out 12,500 more people. More than 105,000 people have been evacuated. Jane Ferguson reports.
The death toll in yesterday's suicide bombing at a gate to Kabul's airport is now drastically worse. At least 169 Afghan civilians were killed, along with 13 U.S. service members.
The Defense Department said today they believe the carnage was the work of one bomber from the Islamic State in Afghanistan, not two, as originally reported.
In the meantime, evacuations continue, as the U.S. and allies flew out 12, 500 more people today. More than 105,000 people have now been evacuated.
Again, with the support of the Pulitzer Center, Jane Ferguson reports from Doha, Qatar.
A day after yesterday's deadly attack by ISIS-K near the Kabul Airport, some Afghans attempted to resume daily life and attended Friday prayers. The message from the imam, one of anger at the U.S.
Mawlai Esaam, Imam (through translator):
You have seen the Americans, in the past 20 years, that they haven't done any fundamental thing for us to be self-sufficient, while they leave the country.
Others openly wept outside a hospital with body bags of victims from the blast. And some buried the dead.
Man (through translator):
Our hearts are on fire. How long should we lose our lives and be humiliated? This is really a big loss for all of us.
Badly injured survivors reflected on what they experienced as they laid in hospital beds.
Nazir Ahmad, Bombing Survivor (through translator):
It was evening around 5:30 p.m. that the incident took place. As I had fallen in the stream, I thought only I had remained alive, and I saw all the other people were killed.
Meanwhile, evacuation flights continued out of Kabul. Satellite images showed heavy traffic around the area. A line of people can be seen on the tarmac heading toward a C-17 transport aircraft. Outside the airport, people gathered, despite the risks.
Ahmadullah Herawi (through translator):
Believe me, I think that explosion will happen in any second or minute, God is witness, but we have lots of challenges in our lives. That is why we take the risk to come here and we overcome fear.
But many others are unable to get through roads blocked by the Taliban.
Our lives are in danger, and we are not in a good situation, and the whole world should know about it.
Today, in Turkey's capital city, Ankara, soldiers disembarked from planes arriving from Afghanistan. The Taliban had asked Turkey for technical support to run the airport after August 31, but Turkish President Recep Erdogan said they will not help unless the Taliban agree to a Turkish security presence.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan (through translator):
Because there is always a possibility of death and such things there, if we get sucked into this, we cannot explain it. So we do not have a decision on this yet.
At the White House, during his meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, President Biden said the U.S. will complete the evacuation.
President Joe Biden:
The mission there being performed is dangerous, and has — now has come with significant loss of American personnel. And — but it's a worthy mission, because they continue to evacuate folks out of that region.
U.S. officials clarified today that there was only one suicide bombing in yesterday's attack, followed by gunfire.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby also noted that measures will be taken to evacuate Americans after the deadline.
The U.S. government will pursue a variety of ways to help any Americans who want to get out after our military presence at the airport has ended, to be able to help them get out.
At a separate briefing, State Department spokesperson Ned Price:
Our military operation will come to an end by August 31. What does not have an expiration date is our commitment to any American who, for whatever reason, decides not to take us up on the offer of repatriation now, but who may come to us in days, weeks, months, or years to say, I want help. I want assistance leaving.
Still, thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. fear they will be left behind. One estimate notes at least 250,000 Afghans who may be eligible for expedited American visas still remain in Afghanistan.
The "NewsHour" spoke over the phone to one man who worked as a U.S. military interpreter for two years.
They do not let me, allow me to inside of the airport. In this case, I am left behind.
For the Taliban and the insurgent groups, doesn't matter if you work for one day with U.S. Army or if you work 10 years for the U.S. government. They will kill those ones that they — who work with USA Army.
Thousands more are not eligible for Special Immigrant Visas, but are still at risk from the Taliban.
One man the "NewsHour" spoke to worked for foreign NGOs. That makes him eligible for a special U.S. visa program called Priority 2, designated for Afghans at risk because of U.S. affiliation.
To be honest, I feel like they have left us — left us in between the monsters alone. And they are just watching what will happen to us.
So, this is not only my opinion. This is the feeling of all the Afghans. They promised to work with those people who are eligible who worked with the United States government. They should have at least a feasible plan for them.
Those who have been able to get out with help from families in other countries find a rare sense of relief. An Afghan woman who left Afghanistan 12 years ago and now lives in France worked tirelessly to get her mother and siblings out.
Shabika Dawod, Afghan Actress (through translator):
As soon as I saw my mother running to me, all this fear fell away. I took her in my arms, and I can feel her warmth.
I rediscovered the smell of my mother, and it's something that I had forgotten. My mother's tears reminded me of the tears she shed when I left Afghanistan. It was really moving, a lot of emotions today.
A feeling thousands may not experience as the window to leave closes.
And Jane joins me again from Doha.
Jane, good to see.
We know you are now in Qatar, but you're keeping in close contact with all your contacts on the ground they're in Afghanistan. What are you hearing from them? What options do Afghans who want to leave now have?
It's not believed, Amna, that anyone is able to realistically leave through that airport now.
We know that the Taliban have been stopping people from going there. The Americans have said don't go, unless — even American passport holders, it's not clear if they're able to travel to the airport or they have to shelter in place.
But — so we're not — that's simply not an option for Afghans. But even before this blast, it was becoming nearly impossible for anybody without a green card or a U.S. passport to get through.
We know that the traditional overland routes out of the country are still being swarmed by people, many of those towards Pakistan, the Torkham and the Spin Buldak borders. These are the border posts that people typically cross through normally, whenever there are peace — more peaceful times, at least, between the two countries.
There are family ties between the two sides or people go for medical treatment or trade. However, right now, it's believed that the Taliban have been trying to prevent people leaving that way as well. So, that journey is perilous. It isn't putting off the tens of thousands who are reportedly trying to cross that border, often using smugglers or going across illegally at the moment, and braving Taliban attacks, because people are still determined, perhaps even more so than ever, to escape the violence here.
But there's also — it's also worth pointing out that the airport may reopen.
Now, there's obviously huge challenges there. But the options for people would be, if the airport were to reopen to commercial air travel, it's unclear how that would happen. As we mentioned in the story there, there had been conversations with Turkey about trying to secure the airport. Which airlines would fly in? Who would fly into an airport controlled by the Taliban?
Could the Taliban prove that they can secure it? Would any commercial airlines trust that security? That's going to be something that those who weren't able to make it at overland or on these evacuation flights will have to sit tight and wait for.
But if you were fleeing the Taliban, you would have to take your chances by hoping that you could slip out of the airport without being caught by any kind of Taliban bureaucracy that is to come.
Jane, what about your sources in Kabul? What are they telling you now about the atmosphere, about what it feels like in that city right now?
It's deeply fearful. The numbers, the sheer numbers of dead and injured in this bombing is shocking even to people in a city where they have experienced such attacks before, many especially from ISIS.
ISIS is basically a group that instills so much fear in Afghans because, in the last few years, we have seen similar attacks. This attack has been particularly shocking at this specific moment in Afghanistan's history. But the reality is that Afghans, especially those living in Kabul, have been living with intense violence from ISIS for several years now.
ISIS have been attacking schools, wedding halls. Intent on killing civilians is the nature of their kind of attacks. And that's been something that people have been very fearful of.
And I think, because ISIS have now shown this incredible show of strength, it's increasing people's resolve and fear and resolve to get out of the country. And I think that that's not necessarily going to change, despite the challenges people face in doing so.
Jane, briefly, before we let you go, you mentioned all those people you're in touch with. So, anyone who had tried to get out before and couldn't, they're telling you they are still determined to try to leave the country; is that right?
Many people are still contacting me and my colleagues begging for help to get out of the country, whether or not that's via flight, whether or not they should go to the airport. Should we go to the airport? Which gate should we go to?
There's been no change, in fact, perhaps even an uptick in panic now that people are fearful of some sort of conflict between ISIS and the Taliban, or at least the very sense that any kind of Taliban hold on the city could begin to be fragile and, therefore, more chaos and more of a vacuum could be coming.
Jane Ferguson reporting for us from Doha, Qatar.
Thank you, Jane.
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Jane is a New York-based special correspondent for the NewsHour, reporting on and from across the Middle East, Africa and beyond. She was previously based in Beirut. Reporting highlights include the lead up to and aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, front-line dispatches from the war against ISIS in Iraq, an up-close look at Houthi-controlled Yemen, and reports on the war and famine in South Sudan. Areas of particular interest are the ongoing cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, Islamist groups around the world, and US foreign policy.
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