Last Thursday morning, after several days of dire warnings that some kind of attack was imminent, two suicide bombings were reported at Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul, one at the Abbey Gate and the other close by, near the Baron Hotel. The country’s Islamic State affiliate, which claims the lands historically called Khorasan including Iran and most of Central Asia, took advantage of the chaotic scene at the airport, where thousands of people, many of whom had worked for the American and other allied governments and feared reprisals against them and their families, were desperately trying to get out of the country.
Initially, it was reported that less than 30 people, including 12 U.S. Marines, were killed in the blasts. Within days, the number of dead rose to over 170 (including 13 American soldiers).
After such attacks, it isn’t all that unusual for the numbers of verified victims to rise as bodies are uncovered from the rubble and some die while receiving medical care, but the initial estimate and later numbers did seem more divergent than usual.
The attacks were used by interventionist pundits in English speaking countries as an excuse to postpone the end of the almost 20 year NATO occupation, with some even claiming that the Taliban were behind the bombings by a group they are extremely hostile to, a silly idea as it would mean they were intent on seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. It would also mean that the Taliban had allowed their own to die in the attacks as several of their guards were killed in the blasts.
As a few commentators have noted, it also seems likely that the Taliban leadership see an opportunity to use the fight against IS-K, as they are sometimes called, to present themselves as fighting a terrorist threat of their own and to show the international community that they’re not the same group that once had links to Al Qaeda.
While there were initial reports of gunfire after the explosions assumed to be connected to the bombers, in a BBC video report by Secunder Kermani from the scene, some bystanders claimed that the shooting started after the bombings and came from the towers above, where American and Turkish troops were stationed.
One unnamed Afghan told Kermani, “Somehow I saw American soldiers, beside them there were Turkish soldiers… So, the fire came from the bridges, the towers.”
Another claimed his brother, a father of 8 who had worked with the American military, was also killed by what he claimed was an American or Turkish bullet that hit him just below his ear, instantly ending his life after he’d survived the bombing unharmed.
There seemed to be some acknowledgment by the Pentagon that something may have gone very wrong after the bombings and that an investigation is underway in a New York Times story from August 28th.
Buried near the end of the long article it says, “For the first time, Pentagon officials publicly acknowledged the possibility that some people killed outside the airport on Thursday might have been shot by American service members after the suicide bombing.
Investigators are looking into whether the gunfire came from Americans at the gate, or from the Islamic State.”
Despite being an important story deserving of investigation by mainstream outlets with the resources to find out what happened, I was only able to find two more stories mentioning the possibility that American and/or Turkish troops fired into the crowd during the panic that ensued after the bombings. One on Consortium News that looked at the lack of mainstream coverage in both the United States and UK press and led me to the NYT story cited above and another on a web-site called OpIndia that mainly focused on Kermani’s coverage.
The involvement of Turkish troops in the incident adds another wrinkle to the story, as that country has been trying to take responsibility for security at the airport after American and other allied forces leave. As reported by Al Jazeera, the country’s goverment hoped to step up to the task to improve its standing within the Sunni Muslim world and also within NATO, where some of its actions in Syria and its purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia, which are designed to counter systems used by the country’s North Atlantic allies, have strained relations between it and other members.
Regardless, as we might expect, it seems unlikely that the Taliban, which has already dismissed the Turkish government’s proposal, is open to the idea of allowing any foreign troops to remain and indeed, this Wednesday Turkish forces began their exodus from the country.
As Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s official spokesperson said in regards to Turkey’s offer, “We want good relations with Turkey, but we don’t want their soldiers in Afghanistan, there is no need for Turkish troops in Afghanistan, we are more than capable of securing the Kabul airport ourselves.”
The response to the attacks by the American government brought more tragedy to innocent Afghans. On Monday a U.S. drone strike close to the airport, which was targeted at a suspected Islamic State militant travelling in a motor vehicle, killed 10 members of the same family, including 7 children.
“It’s wrong, it’s a brutal attack, and it’s happened based on wrong information,” another family member, Ramin Yousufi, told the BBC, adding that his relatives were waiting for a call to go to the airport and be evacuated from the country.
The same report also notes that the Pentagon, which is also investigating the incident, claimed there were ‘secondary explosions’ after the strike, meaning that there may have been bomb making materials in the targeted vehicle or nearby.
Although what happened at the Kabul airport last week has been put forward as a reason why NATO forces should remain in Afghanistan, with none other than Blackwater founder Erik Prince telling Steve Bannon on his podcast that U.S. forces should retake the massive Bagram airbase in Parwan province, north of the capital, if the story of NATO soldiers firing into the crowd after the bombings is true, then the lesson from this is the exact opposite. Such tragedies are inevitable as long as foreigners attempt to control a country often called ‘the graveyard of empires’.
While President Biden has taken a lot of heat for following through on the withdrawal put in motion by his predecessor (despite polling showing 54% of Americans support the pull out), history will surely credit him as the person who finally brought his country’s longest war to an end, avoiding future tragedies and saving untold innocent lives in the process.