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“Mayhem”: Chaotic Scenes at Kabul Airport as Suicide Bombs Kill 110+ Afghans & U.S. Troops

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We go to Kabul, Afghanistan, for an update as the death toll from twin suicide bomb attack outside the airport has topped 110 people, including 13 U.S. troops. The suicide bombers struck near the crowded gates of the airport where thousands of Afghans had gathered in an attempt to flee the country before the withdrawal of U.S. troops on August 31. Afghan journalist Ali Latifi, a Kabul-based correspondent for Al Jazeera English, spoke with witnesses who described a scene of shock and panic following the blasts. “When the bomb went off, it was literally, they said, people walking on top of one another,” says Latifi. “Basically, it was, as they described it, mayhem.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin the show in Afghanistan. A warning to our audience: This segment contains graphic video. The death toll from the twin suicide bombings outside the Kabul airport in Afghanistan has reached at least 108. The Associated Press reports at least 95 Afghans have died, as well as 13 U.S. troops. Thursday was the deadliest day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a decade. The suicide bombers struck near the crowded gates of the airport where thousands of Afghans had gathered in an attempt to flee the country before the withdrawal of U.S. troops on August 31st. Survivors described a horrific scene.

SURVIVOR: [translated] My dear brother, where we were, there was suddenly an explosion. We climbed out of the water and saw that there were many affected. But the explosion, people were hurled everywhere, their brains scattered. There were also foreign forces who were fallen. People started running away, and we got out. … I saw at least 400 to 500 people there. The explosion was really powerful. Half were hurled into the water, others on the ground outside. We carried the wounded here on stretchers. And here, my clothes are completely bloodied.

AMY GOODMAN: The militant group ISIS-K, which is an archenemy of the Taliban, claimed responsibility. In an address to the United States, President Biden defended his decision to abide by the Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. troops, but he vowed to take revenge against the perpetrators of Thursday’s attack.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.

AMY GOODMAN: Evacuations from the airport were halted Thursday after the attack, but they’ve resumed, though many European countries already ended flights out of Kabul. The United States says it has now helped over 100,000 people leave Afghanistan since August 14th.

We go now to Kabul, where we’re joined by Ali Latifi, Afghan journalist based in Kabul, a correspondent for Al Jazeera English.

Ali, thanks so much for joining us once again. Talk about what happened yesterday and the ISIS-K’s claim of responsibility.

ALI LATIFI: Sorry. So, right.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could start again, Ali?

ALI LATIFI: So, I —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

ALI LATIFI: Sorry, sorry. Yes. So, I spoke to several victims over the last day who had basically described this scene of panic after the bomb went off, because over the last week the areas around the airport had become inundated with thousands of people, entire families, who were essentially just squatting in this squalor of the land, hoping that they could somehow gain the attention of foreign forces or someone else who would let them into the airport and eventually onto a flight to get out of the country. So, when the bomb went off, it was literally, they said, you know, people walking on top of one of another, you know, people just scrambling and rushing through hordes of thousands of people.

I spoke to one family whose daughter went missing trying to escape the bombing. Because she was younger, she was trying to lead the charge, go ahead of the rest of the family. At some point, by the time she turned around, her family was missing. And her family has spent much of last night and early this morning continuing to look for her, going from hospital to hospital, trying to see if they can find her, to find out — hopefully, she’s just injured and hasn’t been killed as a part of the stampede or the subsequent bombing.

But that’s the state of it, is that, basically, it was, as they described it, mayhem, you know, because as soon as the bomb went off, you had thousands of people who had been there for hours — in some cases, days — running to get out as quickly as they possibly could. So, that’s really sort of the situation at the airport.

AMY GOODMAN: The word is — and, of course, we can’t confirm this — that it was at least one suicide bomber from Logar. He had already been checked, actually, by perhaps U.S. military. This happened at the Abbey Gate and also near the — was it the Baron Hotel, which is the base of operations for the British, who are ending their evacuation — they had already planned to — today?

ALI LATIFI: Exactly. And the issue is that outside the gates of the airport, there are Taliban stationed and the CIA-backed former intelligence forces, both of whom are known for their hostility. And they were basically given the orders to keep people away from the airport. And the way both groups have responded is by shooting into the air, chasing after people with hoses, making sure nobody gets too close, nobody lingers. And so, there really was no — it’s not as if there was any sort of thorough security check before they got to the gate.

And even when they did get inside the gate — because, according to CENTCOM, the bomber detonated inside the gate, if I understood correctly. But even by the time he got inside the gate, he hadn’t been thoroughly checked. And again, even in that crowd, there were hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people there. So, getting to, you know, check him properly would have been almost impossible at that point, because, as I said, the security outside the gates of the airport is very haphazard. It’s very violent. It’s conducted by the Taliban, and it’s conducted by the CIA-backed forces, who are known for their brutality and their rights abuses, when they were famous for conducting night raids in this country. So, that is how you end up with that kind of situation.

AMY GOODMAN: A Taliban official Thursday called the attacks on Kabul’s airport an act of terrorism, adding the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan are to blame. Can you talk about that?

ALI LATIFI: It’s ironic, isn’t it, coming from them? And if the presence of foreign forces is to blame, well, the foreign forces are leaving in four days, and the Taliban had been working with those foreign forces to take control of the airport to, you know, essentially help them evacuate people, make it possible for them to evacuate people. So, on the one hand, you know, they’re blaming the foreign forces, which, fine, but they’re also working with those foreign forces. And they themselves made a deal with Washington for the withdrawal. So the entire thing is ironic, coming from them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about the Afghans who are trying to flee the country? Who’s being allowed through into the airport? Who’s getting out? The U.S. says it’s —

ALI LATIFI: Almost nobody. Almost nobody. I’ve been talking —

AMY GOODMAN: And yet the U.S. says it’s helped over 100,000 people. I think it’s something like 150,000 people have left Afghanistan.

ALI LATIFI: Well, I think the question is: How many of those were foreigners, and how many of them were Afghan? Because I, personally, in the last week, have been in contact with friends of mine, including Afghans who had green cards who are afraid to take their family to the airport. I have been talking to Afghans who had visas from different countries and were just standing in that line yesterday and, luckily, only left two, three hours before the bomb exploded, before the first bomb exploded.

So, this idea that, you know, thousands and thousands of Afghans are being evacuated every day is not entirely true. Yes, many, many foreigners have been evacuated and will be evacuated. But as of right now, there are still — of course, there are sort of people just trying to press their luck, taking any document, seeing if they — for instance, we spoke to the family of one man who, you know, his colleague said, “You worked for intelligence. Come with your intelligence badge, and hopefully the American soldiers will see it and let you through.” And then we saw other people who had, you know, very flimsy proof, just certificates and random documents at their disposal, hoping that they could get through. But we also know of people who were very far along in the process, who had green cards, who had visas, who were told to come to the airport but could not get through the crowds and could not make it into the actual airport.

So, we really need to keep that in mind, the fact that this system was not built to get the Afghan people in. If anything, it emboldened the Taliban and the CIA-backed forces to be more brutal and more hostile and more confrontational with people trying to get in. And at the same time, all of these governments, over the last few months, have been advertising that they would have these visa processes and that they would give people visas and saying that they expanded the parameters of those visas. But going through that process is — you know, is like a labyrinth. It’s not clear-cut. It’s not straightforward. And so, a lot of people were left behind because of paperwork, simply, because of logistical reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, we’re going to talk about that later in the broadcast, how difficult, especially the Trump administration, with Steve Miller —

ALI LATIFI: It didn’t start with the Trump — 

AMY GOODMAN: — the adviser —

ALI LATIFI: But it’s not just the Trump administration. We have to be honest. You know, I don’t think we can take this viewpoint of “Trump, bad; everyone else, good.” This continued under the Biden administration, and it’s under the Biden administration that this has happened. So I don’t think we should just be pinning this on Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let me, finally, ask you about attacks on journalists. You wrote about Ziar Khan Yaad from TOLOnews being attacked by the Taliban. Can you talk about what’s happening to journalists? Is this typical right now?

ALI LATIFI: It’s not entirely typical. It’s not an exception. Journalists have always had a hard time in this country. And at this point, everyone is just — they’re essentially trying to see how far they can go. You know, it —

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to him?

ALI LATIFI: Basically, he was outside in the middle of the street in a very populated area of the city, 10:30 in the morning, in broad daylight. He was just basically interviewing daily wage workers. He wasn’t interviewing — there was no politician, no soldier, nothing controversial. He was just asking them about the economy, when a white armored Land Cruiser stopped, beat him up, beat up his cameraman, took his equipment. When they pulled out their media cards, they insulted them, beat them up even more, started hitting them with the butt of their rifles. You know, they were doing nothing controversial whatsoever.

And that’s the scariest part, is that everybody is, essentially, at this point, over the last 10 days, trying to test the waters to see, you know, what is too far for these people and how — to see if they will live up to — because, you know, they kept saying the media is free and the media can operate and we want them to operate and all. But, you know, when things like this happen — you know, again, as I said, it was broad daylight in the middle of the city. They were interviewing daily wage workers. There was nothing even remotely controversial about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali, finally, are you planning to stay in Kabul?

ALI LATIFI: I hope to be able to stay as long as possible. You know, the situation — we have to see if the Taliban lives by its word. If it protects us, if it allows for some semblance of democracy and freedom of speech, if they don’t continue to intimidate and harass and beat up journalists and they let us — allow us to operate freely, of course, why would I want to leave my country? You know, I’ve been lucky. Today I was able to go visit so many victims and tell their stories to the world. And if I’m forced out by them, by their actions, then who will be here to tell those stories and to make sure that they get broadcast and published everywhere as possible?

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Latifi, I want to thank you for being with us, Afghan journalist based in Kabul, correspondent for Al Jazeera English. Stay safe.

Coming up, who is ISIS-K? We’ll speak to Haroun Rahimi, assistant professor of law at American University of Afghanistan. Stay with us.

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Who Is ISIS-K? Anti-Taliban, Anti-U.S. Terror Group Claims Responsibility for Kabul Suicide Bombs

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