(CNN) – The United States vowed to continue the evacuation of US citizens and allies from Afghanistan as US forces brace for the threat of more terrorist attacks following two deadly bombings at the Kabul airport.
At least 90 Afghans were killed and another 140 wounded on Thursday, an Afghan Health Ministry official said, after suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds outside the airport.
“It was as if someone pulled the ground under my feet; for a moment I thought my eardrums were bursting and I lost my hearing,” said a man who had been in line near the airport abbey gate with the hope to get on one of the flights that leave the country during the last days of the airlift.
“I saw bodies and body parts flying in the air like a tornado carrying plastic bags … into the air. I saw bodies, body parts, injured elderly and men, women and children scattered at the scene of the explosion,” said the The man, a former employee of an international development group on a special immigrant visa from the United States, told the Reuters news agency.
“It is not possible to see the end of the world in this life, but today I saw the end of the world, I witnessed it with my own eyes,” he said.
According to the Pentagon, 13 US servicemen were killed and another 18 wounded in the attack.
Ten Marines were among the soldiers killed and several more were wounded, Marine Corps spokesman Major Jim Stenger said. The identities and units of the dead will not be announced until relatives are notified, he added.
The bombing came as the United States and other Western countries rushed to evacuate their Afghan citizens and allies before the August 31 deadline, after the Taliban regained control of the country.
Thousands of Afghans had been gathering at the airport gates in recent days in the hope of being evacuated. Images posted on social media Thursday after the blasts showed chaotic scenes of crowds trying to help the injured amid the bodies on the ground. The photos showed bloodied people being transported off site in wheelbarrows.
A video filmed by local Afghan journalists in the wake of the blasts appears to show that people continue to gather near the perimeter of the airport despite enormous personal risk.
ISIS in Khorasan, known as ISIS-K, claimed responsibility for the attack, but did not provide evidence to support the claim. US officials have said the terror group was likely behind the bombing.
Speaking from the White House, President Joe Biden said that evacuation efforts would not be stopped by the attack and that he had ordered US military commanders to develop plans to attack “ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities.”
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will go after them and make them pay,” Biden said.
About 7,500 people were evacuated from Kabul over the course of 12 hours between 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET Thursday, the White House said. It is unclear how many of those evacuations took place after the attack.
General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, said US forces were continuing the evacuation mission at “best speed,” noting that there were still about 1,000 US citizens in Afghanistan.
But he said the focus at this time was on “extremely active threat streams against the airfield.”
McKenzie described ISIS threats as “imminent”, from rocket attacks to suicide attacks “with vehicles”, in addition to suicide bombers on foot like Thursday’s bombing.
He said the US military is using attack helicopters and other manned and unmanned aircraft to defend the Kabul airport, as well as sharing intelligence information with the Taliban for security purposes.
“They don’t get the full range of information that we have. But we give them enough to act in time and space to try to prevent these attacks,” McKenzie said.
US officials have been warning for the past week that the threat of a terrorist attack at the airport was growing more serious. Earlier on Thursday local time, US diplomats in Kabul warned US citizens to “immediately” leave several airport gates, citing security threats.
The risk of possible suicide attacks by ISIS-K had already prompted the United States to establish alternative routes to the Kabul airport early in the evacuation operation.
One of the explosions on Thursday occurred at the gate of the airport’s abbey, the main entry point to the airport; primary security has been provided by the US Marines. The area around that gate had been used to house refugees after they passed through Taliban checkpoints outside the airport and before they were allowed into the facility.
At least one other explosion occurred in or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
The Baron Hotel was used by British soldiers and other allies as an evacuation management center to process evacuees, before transferring them to the Abbey Gate. It is unclear if international forces were still in the area when the blast occurred.
Speaking with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, journalist and author Matthieu Aikins said he could hear “gunshots and sirens” from the airport less than an hour after the attack.
“At that time, we went back to the emergency hospital, and they were bringing the wounded there. There was only body after body. It was a really terrible sight,” Aikins said. “There are tens of thousands of people cramming from all angles at the same time, this desperate pressure to get out American citizens and others. So it really was a recipe for disaster.”
So far, tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the airport by the US military and NATO allies in the past two weeks. These evacuations are scheduled to begin to shrink in the next few days, before the August 31 deadline, given by the United States, for the final exit of a 20-year war in Afghanistan.
More than 95,700 people have been evacuated since August 14 and more than 101,300 since the end of July.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they will continue their Kabul evacuation operation despite the “barbaric” attack.
“I think that (these attacks) are despicable, but I am afraid that this is something for which we have had to prepare ourselves. It will not interrupt our progress, we will continue with our evacuation,” he added to British media in London.
The UK Armed Forces have entered the “final stages of evacuation” from Kabul airport, according to a statement issued Friday by the British Defense Ministry.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the situation around the airport had seriously deteriorated in the wake of the explosions.
“As we speak, we have 20 buses of dual citizens and Afghans that we would like to be able to repatriate,” he said. “I cannot guarantee that we will be successful because the security situation is beyond our control.”
Australia and New Zealand have completed their evacuation flights from Kabul. New Zealand’s last evacuation flight landed in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday night local time before the attacks took place. No members of the national defense force were in Kabul at the time of the attack, and no New Zealanders were left at the airport, the government said.
On Friday, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton confirmed that Australia has completed the country’s evacuation mission. On Australian citizens who could still be in Afghanistan, many are likely to try to reach other borders, he said.
Other countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland, have said their evacuation missions will end on Thursday.