UK denies Pentagon leaks it pushed to leave Kabul airport gate open before deadly attack

The UK foreign secretary has rejected Pentagon leaks suggesting that Britain was indirectly responsible for the mass casualties of a deadly attack at Kabul airport amid evacuation operations last week.

Dominic Raab said on Tuesday that London coordinated closely with the United States and did not push to keep one of the main access gates open at the airport, where two assailants wearing explosive vests killed 170 people and 13 American troopers on Thursday.

The denial came after Politico, citing classified notes of internal conversations among top Pentagon leaders, reported that American forces had decided to keep the gate, called the Abbey Gate, at the strategic facility open longer than they initially wanted to in order to allow Britain to continue evacuating its personnel before the explosion took place.

“We got our civilian staff out of the processing center by Abbey Gate, but it’s just not true to suggest that, other than securing our civilian staff inside the airport, that we were pushing to leave the gate open,” Raab claimed.

“We also shifted the civilian team that we had in the Baron Hotel to the airport, because being a stone’s throw away from where the terrorist attack took place, it clearly wasn’t safe, but none of that would have required or necessitated Abbey Gate to be left open,” he said.

The British foreign secretary claimed London had taken mitigating action, including warning people not to come to the airport due to bomb threats, and dismissed reports he had failed to do enough to evacuate British nationals.

“In fact, and let me just be clear about this, we were issuing changes to travel advice before the bomb attack took place and saying to people in the crowd, about which I was particularly concerned, that certainly UK nationals and anyone else should leave because of the risk,” Raab said.

He said Britain had secured the safe passage of 17,000 people, including around 5,000 British nationals, since April.

The Taliban militants intensified their offensives and rapidly overran major cities in recent weeks as the United States started what was seen as a hasty withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan. The Taliban took control of Afghanistan on August 15, prompting the evacuation of thousands of Afghan and foreign civilians via the Kabul airport, while foreign troops also used the airfield to pull out. 

During the Thursday attack, the two bombs were detonated as scores of people trying to leave Afghanistan had crowded around the airport’s Abbey Gate. The Daesh terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack. Several British nationals waiting outside the Kabul airport were also killed.

The US military said a day after the deadly attack that it had carried out a drone strike against Daesh in Nangarhar Province, east of Kabul and bordering Pakistan, killing two members of the Takfiri terrorist group.

But some reports said the airstrike had killed civilians, including women and children.

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