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World leaders and Taliban condemn attack near Kabul airport

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen in Moscow on July 22. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AP)

Condolences and condemnation poured in from world leaders following the twin blasts outside Kabul’s airport Thursday that left dozens dead or wounded. The Taliban, Afghanistan’s de facto ruler, said it launched an investigation of the attack.

U.S. Central Command said an Islamic State terrorist attack had killed at least 13 U.S. troops and wounded 18 more. Dozens of Afghan civilians appear to have been killed.

In remarks Thursday evening, President Biden called the slain American soldiers “heroes who had been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to safe the lives of others.”

“Our hearts ache … for all those Afghan families who lost loved ones, including small children, or who have been wounded in this vicious attack,” he said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned the “cowardly and inhuman attacks” on Twitter, adding that “it is essential to do everything to ensure the safety of people at the airport.”

“The international community must work closely together to avoid a resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan and beyond,” she added.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also expressed anger and sorrow. “I strongly condemn the horrific terrorist attack outside #Kabul airport. My thoughts are with all those affected and their loved ones,” he said on Twitter. “Our priority remains to evacuate as many people to safety as quickly as possible.”

President Biden on Aug. 26 spoke about terrorist attacks in Kabul that killed multiple U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

The United States and European allies had issued warnings in recent days about an attack targeting the airport, and the Biden administration had raised concerns about the threat posed by the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the Syria-based militant group’s Afghanistan contingent.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France’s ambassador to Afghanistan would leave the country and work from Paris. He said in a statement Thursday evening that France shares the grief of the victims’ families.

“This is a very difficult day, not just for Afghans but for people around the world, including in Canada, who have long been deeply committed to the Afghan people and a better future for Afghanistan,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters at a campaign event in Quebec City.

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The foreign ministries of Pakistan, India and Turkey released statements extending condolences and condemning the attack.

“Today’s attacks reinforce the need for the world to stand unitedly against terrorism and all those who provide sanctuaries to terrorists,” the statement from India’s External Affairs Ministry said.

Norway’s foreign minister joined the chorus of condemnation, as did German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whose scheduled meeting with Biden in Washington on Thursday was postponed in the wake of the attack, expressed his condolences on Twitter “over the loss of American lives in Kabul.”

“Israel stands with the United States in these difficult times, just as America has always stood with us,” he said.

The British Defense Ministry said on Twitter that there had been no reports of British military or government casualties from the blasts. Britain’s secretary of state for transport issued a notice advising airlines to avoid Afghan airspace under 25,000 feet. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called an emergency meeting, Politico reported.

Johnson on Thursday said British evacuation efforts would continue despite the “barbaric” attacks. He did not specify when Britain would wrap up its rescue efforts, though he said it was in the “final stages” of its evacuation.

“Clearly what this attack shows is the importance of continuing that work in as fast and as efficient a manner as possible in the hours that remain to us,” Johnson said.

On Wednesday, Britain was among several countries warning people to stay away from the Kabul airport, citing the threat of a terrorist attack.

Other European leaders whose governments are airlifting people out of Kabul voiced a similar resolve to continue evacuations. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Twitter that Spain was working to fly out “as many people as possible.”

Calling the leaders of evacuation operations “heroes,” Macron vowed that France would complete its evacuation efforts to protect Afghans who are at risk. France had 20 buses of dual nationals and Afghans stuck outside the airport after the attack, Politico reported.

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The Taliban, long criticized for its ties to extremist groups but a sworn enemy of the Islamic State, denounced the attack.

“The Islamic Emirate strongly condemns the bombing of civilians at Kabul airport, which took place in an area where US forces are responsible for security,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a Twitter statement, using another name for the group.

A Taliban official told The Washington Post that the group has “launched an investigation to know the nature of the blasts and why it happened.”

Abdullah Abdullah, a former reconciliation council leader who has been in talks with the Taliban about forming a new government, wrote on Twitter: “My thought and prayers are with the victims and their families at this difficult time.”

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, also among the former leaders who are in talks with the Taliban, “strongly denounced” the attack in a statement on Twitter, calling it “a crime against humanity and an attack on the Afghan people.”

“President Karzai expressed his hope that our beloved country will be freed from suffering as soon as possible,” the statement said.

Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan; Karla Adam in London; and Amanda Coletta in Toronto contributed to this report.