Kabul airport blast gate kept open for UK evacuation: report

Kabul airport gate, site of deadly explosion, kept open for UK evacuation: report
3 min read
01 September, 2021
A report by Politico suggests that US commanders wanted to close the Abbey Gate at Kabul airport before a deadly explosion killed 200 Afghans and 13 US troops, but it was kept open to assist the British evacuation effort.
The UK has denied the claims that it pushed to keep the Abbey Gate open [Getty - file photo]

US commanders at Kabul airport delayed closing a gate where a deadly explosion killed nearly 200 Afghan civilians and 13 US servicemen on Thursday to allow access for people sent there by UK forces, a report has claimed.

Rear Admiral Peter Vasely, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, and Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, relayed information that three gates were under threat, including the Abbey Gate, near the Baron Hotel where British evacuations were being processed, according to a report by POLITICO.

Leaked phone conversations indicate that senior Pentagon officials had a precise intelligence assessment in the lead-up to the attacks. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told senior staff to prepare for a "mass casualty event".

The POLITICO report was based on classified notes from the US defence department phone calls it obtained from the day of the bombing, as well as interviews with officials with knowledge of the conversations.

The UK has strongly denied suggestions that British forces' actions may have contributed to the bloodshed, with the spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying it is "simply not true to suggest we pushed to keep the gate open".

UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab told The Radio Times that the embassy had already moved its civilian staff from the Baron Hotel to the inside of the airport, so there was no need to keep the gate open.

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With the two other airport gates permanently shut earlier in the day, Vasely had planned to close Abbey Gate by 4pm local time, according to the call notes.

This was delayed because British forces had allegedly accelerated their drawdown from the nearby Baron Hotel. The US was forced to keep the Abbey Gate open to allow British evacuees into the airport, according to Vasely.

Though evacuees did not arrive by the time the attack took place at 6pm, two British nationals were killed in the bombing.

The POLITICO account appears to be corroborated by emails seen by BBC's Newsnight programme.

In an email sent to a former Afghan interpreter asking him if he was in the right place, the British embassy wrote: "Please advise that you are at the correct gate? Abbey Gate on hawa on Shawasi Street."

The interpreter, who chose to remain unnamed for security concerns, said that if he had followed that advice "I would be no more".

The British Foreign Office had also previously advised against all travel to Kabul Airport, something that sparked confusion among Afghans who worked for the British over whether it concerned everyone or those already instructed to head to the airport for evacuation.