Just before 6 p.m. on 26 August a huge bomb went off near Abbey Gate, the main entrance to Kabul airport, killing 13 US service personnel and at least 170 civilians. A suicide bomber was to blame and Daesh-Khorasan* has claimed responsibility.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has denied UK forces were partly to blame for the death toll at last week’s Kabul airport explosion.
A Politico report claimed the US forces guarding the airport kept Abbey Gate open longer than they wanted because the British wanted more time to get evacuees out.
Politico says the US commanders planned to close Abbey Gate by Thursday afternoon but decided to delay it so their British allies could continue evacuating their personnel, based at the Baron Hotel.
But Mr Raab told Sky News: “We co-ordinated very closely with the US, in particular around the ISIS-K threat which we anticipated, although tragically were not able to prevent, but it is certainly right to say we got our civilians out of the processing centre by Abbey Gate, but it is just not true to suggest that other than securing our civilians inside the airport that we were pushing to leave the gate open”.
He went out to spell out the British position: “Let me just be clear about this, we were issuing changes of travel advice before the bomb attack took place and saying to people in the crowd, about which I was particularly concerned, that certainly UK nationals and anyone else should leave because of the risk”.
Leaked transcripts to Politico from calls between the Pentagon and military top brass on the ground in Kabul show how aware they were of the potential for an attack.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly told officials to prepare for a “mass casualty event” on 25 August and said: “I don’t believe people get the incredible amount of risk on the ground”.
The Pentagon’s version of events has changed considerably since the day of the bombing. They initially said there had been two suicide bombs and then they rowed back from that.
The Americans also initially claimed Daesh-K gunmen had opened fire on survivors after the bombing, but later admitted it was panicking US troops who had fired on the crowd.
Raab, who was on holiday in Greece when the Taliban* suddenly advanced and took Kabul, has been criticised for not calling the Afghan or Pakistani foreign ministers in the six months before the fall of Kabul, the Sunday Times reported.
But Raab defended his and Britain’s role in Afghanistan and said they had managed to evacuate 17,000 people, including 5,000 British citizens, since April, with only a few hundred left behind.