Bombing in Kabul halts evacuations

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UPDATED: Norway’s military field hospital inside the airport in Kabul was still operating and busy on Friday, after bomb blasts in and around the Afghan capital’s airport area Thursday afternoon. All Norwegian government personnel still in Afghanistan were accounted for, according to Lt Col Ivar Moen at the Norwegian military’s operative headquarters, but evacuation efforts had to be halted.

Norway’s military field hospital inside the Kabul airport was still operating on Friday and will remain open at least “for a few more days” following the bombings in Kabul. A military spokesman told NRK that it’s of “critical importance given the current situation.”  PHOTO: Forsvaret

They’d already been disrupted, even as more flights carrying both Norwegians and citizens of other countries landed in Oslo on Thursday. More were arriving on Friday, bringing the total of evacuees to Norway to around 1,100 people, many of them Afghan children and their families.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Friday morning that among the evacuees arriving in Oslo is the now-former Afghan government minister Nargis Nehan. She sent out a message that she and her family had “finally landed in Norway with my family, leaving my father and sister behind. I can’t stop my tears for my people and country. I am not a proud, resilient and hopeful Afghan anymore. I am again a hopeless and helpless refugee whose search for identity, home and peace is never-ending.”

Now evacuation flights have been suspended, after most who finally had managed to get inside the airport area were flown out. Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide had already warned Norwegians still in Afghanistan who hadn’t been able to get to the airport in Kabul to now stay away, because of warnings in advance of a terrorist attack on Thursday. It ended up being carried out.

Death toll rising
Foreign ministry staff scrambled “to assemble reliable information about the extent of the blast,” communications chief Trude Måseide told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Photos sent from the scene to NRK showed injured or dead Afghans being transported on wheelbarrows (external link), while the extremist Islamic organization Taliban initially reported “at least 13 dead” including children. Others were reporting at least 30, with the death toll expected to rise.

By Friday morning, the death toll was more than 90, including 13 American soldiers, most of them US Marines. At least 28 members of the extremist Islamic organization Taliban, which assumed political and military rule over Afghanistan less than two weeks ago, were also killed in the attack.

The brutal terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) confirmed Thursday night that it was behind the attack, carried out by two suicide bombers and followed by IS members shooting into the crowd, according to one of many Reuters reports from the scene. IS has been trying to rebuild after its defeat in Syria and its attack is viewed as against the Taliban as well as the civilians crowded around the perimeter of the Kabul airport as they tried to flee the country.

Field hospital important
Moen of Norway’s defense forces had confirmed the “concrete threat” against the airport in Kabul. Norway had sent both police and special forces to Afghanistan this week, all of whom are working closely with US military forces. The US is now in charge of security for Norway’s field hospital and medics. The hospital, located within the airport compound, was supposed to stay open through the end of the year but was ordered to close when the Taliban ordered all other foreign troops out by September 1. Now it’s playing a “critically important” role, since many were also wounded in the attacks.

“The Norwegian forces are part of a coalition and we all have to work with the threat picture at all times,” Moen told NRK before the bombs went off. “I can’t go into details, but the threats are affecting us.”

Norway’s foreign ministry continued to urge Norwegians to stay away from the airport and “find a safer place” unless they get clear messages from Norwegian officials to the contrary.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund