Bangladesh Trying to Evacuate Afghan Students as Bombings Hit Kabul Airport

Jesmin Papri
Dhaka
2021-08-26
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Bangladesh Trying to Evacuate Afghan Students as Bombings Hit Kabul Airport A screen grab shows people carrying an injured person to a hospital after a bomb attack at Kabul airport, Aug. 26, 2021.
Reuters

Dhaka was trying to evacuate 15 of its nationals and 160 young Afghan women who had been studying at a university in Bangladesh, a diplomat said Thursday, as two suicide bombers struck crowded areas outside the international airport in Afghanistan’s capital, killing dozens.

A source with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who spoke on condition of anonymity said the group slated for evacuation via a chartered flight from Kabul was not affected by the bombings and still waiting in vehicles near the airport for permission to enter.

The fate of future evacuations was unclear in the aftermath of Thursday’s attacks, however.

The two simultaneous bombings hit late Thursday, hours after Western embassies urged people to leave the area due to the threat of a terror attack by the regional branch of the Islamic State group.

“We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of U.S. & civilian casualties,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Twitter, referring to an area near the airport typically jammed with would-be evacuees.

“We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate,” Kirby said.

Video footage from the scene showed what appeared to be dozens of corpses, and witnesses at the scene said that the blasts were followed by gunfire, Reuters news agency reported.

Taliban official Suhail Shaheen said the two explosions took place in an area managed by U.S. forces. “We strongly condemn this gruesome incident and will take every step to bring the culprits to justice,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s main spokesman, told AFP that “between 13 and 20” people were killed and 52 wounded in the twin blasts.

Twelve U.S. servicemen were among those killed, according to a Pentagon press briefing.

‘Very critical’

Earlier, a Bangladeshi diplomat described to BenarNews efforts underway to evacuate 15 Bangladeshis and 160 Afghan students from the Asian University of Women in Chittagong who were stranded in their home country.

“They required permission from the Taliban and U.S. military to go to the airport. They don’t know when they will be able to fly, but they are trying,” Zahangir Alam, Bangladesh’s envoy to Uzbekistan, told BenarNews. He said that UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, was coordinating the attempted departure.

“The situation at Kabul airport is very critical. That’s why we are not sure when the journey will start,” Zahangir said.

As Bangladesh currently has no diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, Zahangir has been remotely coordinating evacuations, communicating directly with his countrymen from Tashkent, he said.

In Dhaka on Thursday, speaking to reporters before the bomb blasts, Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen gave limited information about the evacuation efforts.

“We are trying to bring back the Bangladeshis who are in Afghanistan. But we are not disclosing the procedures. There is a fluid situation in Kabul. That’s why we do not want to make any mistakes,” he said.

“Till now we have traced 29 Bangladeshis in Afghanistan,” a senior foreign ministry official, Mashfee Binte Shams, told reporters at the same press conference.

“Of them, about five people have already returned to Bangladesh while more 15 are waiting to go back home. Our effort to bring back the rest is underway.”

Kabul’s international airport has been the scene of mass evacuations since the Taliban took control of the country 11 days ago, weeks after the United States withdrew military forces that were part of an international coalition backing the government. Thousands of American troops subsequently returned to assist the evacuation effort.

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