Shots have been fired at an Italian military transport plane as it flew out of Kabul airport on an evacuation mission, as the deadly situation in Afghanistan deteriorates further.
Numerous unconfirmed media reports late on Thursday also say there has been an explosion and gunfire at the Hamid Karzai International Airport that could involve mass casualties.
Fox News were reporting soon after that shots had been fired following a suicide bombing at Abbey Gate outside Kabul airport.
It predicted multiple Afghan casualties.
The horrific scenes confirmed the volatile situation confronting various countries trying to evacuate citizens from the danger zone before an agreed August 31 deadline.
— Karen Middleton (@KarenMMiddleton) August 26, 2021
An Italian journalist travelling on the flight told Sky 24 TG that the plane had been carrying almost 100 Afghan civilians when it came under fire minutes after take-off.
Disclose.tv tweeted that “the Italian C-130 had to fly an evasive maneuver after takeoff from Kabul airport due to gunfire from the ground”.
Fortunately, a source at Italy’s Defence Ministry said the plane was not damaged in the incident on Thursday night.
Italian intelligence officers say the shots may have been fired to disperse the crowd, not to attack the plane, another government source said.
The incident occurred as warnings were issued of a threatened terror attack at the airport, where thousands are seeking to board flights to escape the country’s new Taliban rulers.
Earlier, the US and its allies were urging people to move away from Kabul airport, citing the threat of an attack by Islamic State militants as Western troops hurry to evacuate as many people as possible before the Taliban’s deadline.
Pressure to complete the evacuations of thousands of foreigners and Afghans who helped Western countries during the 20-year war against the Taliban has intensified, with all US and allied troops due to leave the airport next week.
In an alert issued on Wednesday evening, the US Embassy in Kabul advised citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately, citing unspecified “security threats”.
In a similar advisory, Britain told people to move away from the airport area. Its armed forces minister, James Heappey, said intelligence about a possible suicide bomb attack by IS militants had become “much firmer”.
“I can’t stress the desperation of the situation enough. The threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal. We wouldn’t be saying this if we weren’t genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target that is just unimaginable,” Mr Heappey told BBC radio.
A Western diplomat in Kabul said areas outside the airport gates were “incredibly crowded” again despite the warnings.
Australia also issued a warning for people to stay away from the airport while Belgium ended its evacuation operations because of the danger of an attack.
The Dutch government also issued a warning and said it expected to carry out its last evacuation flight on Thursday, leaving behind some who are eligible to travel to the Netherlands.
The warnings came against a chaotic backdrop in Kabul and its airport, where a massive airlift of foreign nationals and their families as well as some Afghans has been under way since the Taliban captured the city on August 15.
The Taliban, whose fighters are guarding the perimeter outside the airport, are enemies of the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), after an old name for the region.
“Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport. They face a threat too from the Islamic State group,” said a Taliban official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
While Western troops in the airport worked to move the evacuation as fast as possible, thousands of people still thronged outside, trying to flee rather than stay in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Acting chief of Canada’s defence staff General Wayne Eyre told a news conference on Thursday: “We stayed in Afghanistan for as long as we could … we wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone.”
“That we could not is truly heartbreaking, but the circumstances on the ground rapidly deteriorated,” General Eyre said.
He said Canada had evacuated or facilitated the evacuation of about 3700 Canadian and Afghan citizens despite not having a significant military presence in Afghanistan for seven years.
General Eyre said the evacuation mission was extremely dangerous and had faced “significant and dynamic” threats.
“Throughout the operation, we received word of multiple imminent attacks,” he said.
The United States has said it will respect the August 31 deadline to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan, and on Thursday urged Afghans to leave the Kabul airport, citing the threat of an attack by Islamic State militants.