KABUL: Milad went to Kabul’s airport with his wife, three children and documents for a new life in the United States, but left with his hopes in ruins after witnessing a suicide bomber kill dozens around him.
Twin attacks on Thursday claimed by the Islamic State group targeted US troops overseeing a frenzied evacuation effort at the airport as well as the masses of Afghans seeking to flee their own country.
The explosions tore through a crowd at the perimeter of the airport, leaving some victims face-down in a shallow, fetid canal.
Wounded people in blood-soaked clothes were ferried away in wheelbarrows, as stunned survivors desperately shouted for help searching for loved ones in the carnage.
One man held a semi-conscious victim by the elbow, trying to stop his head from slipping beneath the surface of the murky water.
Follow live updates
“Bodies, flesh and people were thrown into a canal nearby,” Milad, who was at the scene of the first blast, told AFP.
Milad said he had applied for a visa to the United States, but in the chaos dropped the documents he hoped would help him board a flight with his wife and three children.
“I will never, ever want to go (to the airport) again. Death to America, its evacuation and visas,” he said.
A second witness told AFP that “total panic” erupted after the first explosion, with Taliban guards who were securing areas outside the airport also taken by surprise.
“The Taliban then started firing in the air to disperse the crowd at the gate,” said the witness, who was also trying to get into the airport in the hope of fleeing.
“I saw a man rushing with an injured baby in his hands.”
Western intelligence agencies had warned Thursday of an imminent attack, with US President Joe Biden citing a terrorist threat from the regional chapter of the IS jihadist group.
But crowds still gathered, with just five days until the deadline set by the United States to end the airlifts.
More than 100,000 people have fled Afghanistan via the US-led evacuation, with Afghans terrified of life under the new rule of the hardline Islamist Taliban.
The Taliban have tolerated the US forces conducting the airlift, but the IS jihadists are bitter rivals.
The devices were detonated as the sun started to set, claiming the lives of dozens of Afghans, as well as 13 US soldiers.
The Pentagon said one explosion was at the Abbey Gate of Kabul airport, and at least one more blast hit the nearby Baron Hotel.
Shortly after, an AFP photographer saw several bodies arriving at the Emergency Hospital in Kabul.
Women with blood-stained faces and clothes wept as the wounded were taken into the clinic on stretchers.
The Italian NGO Emergency said the hospital it operates in Kabul had been overwhelmed by a “massive influx” of more than 60 casualties, 16 of whom were pronounced dead on arrival.
The injured “could not speak, many were terrified, their eyes totally lost in emptiness, their gaze blank”, the hospital’s medical coordinator Alberto Zanin said in a post on the group’s Twitter account.
The casualties brought to the hospital, which was already 80 percent full before the bombings, “were all civilians; women, children,” said Emergency president Rossella Miccio.