British foreign minister fires back over claim that critical gate at Kabul airport was left open for UK personnel

The United Kingdom is denying reports that Abbey Gate at the Kabul airport was kept open prior to a suicide bomber detonating explosives to accommodate British allies evacuating their personnel from the nearby Baron Hotel.

The bomb that exploded last Thursday outside Hamid Karzai International Airport killed 13 U.S. service members, and as many as 170 other people.

Politico reported that 24 hours before the bombings, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held an update via secure video conference with senior military leaders. Lloyd reportedly instructed those on the call to make preparations for an imminent “mass casualty event.”

Milley also warned of “significant” intelligence indicating that ISIS-K was planning a “complex attack.”

More from Politico:

On a separate call at 4 that afternoon, or 12:30 a.m. on Thursday in Kabul, the commanders detailed a plan to close Abbey Gate by Thursday afternoon Kabul time. But the Americans decided to keep the gate open longer than they wanted in order to allow their British allies, who had accelerated their withdrawal timeline, to continue evacuating their personnel, based at the nearby Baron Hotel.

American troops were still processing entrants to the airport at Abbey Gate at roughly 6 p.m. in Kabul on Thursday when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest there, killing nearly 200 people, including 13 U.S. service members.

 

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab adamantly denied the accusation during an interview with Sky News.

“Look, we coordinate very closely with the U.S., in particular around the ISIS-K threat that we anticipated, although tragically were not able to prevent,” Raab said. “But we, it’s certainly right to say that 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 civilians staff inside the airport that we were pushing to leave the gate open.”

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

Raab told BBC News that the actions being taken by British troops necessitated the gate being left open.

“We also shifted the civilian team that we had in the Baron Hotel to the airport,” Raab explained. “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.

Citing emails from the British embassy, the BBC reported Tuesday that UK officials instructed Afghans to go to the Abbey Gate entrance hours before the bombing there. The U.K. government is said to be investigating the emails.

The Pentagon took exception to Politico’s reporting, claiming it put U.S. troops “at greater risk.” They did not deny the material facts.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement: “This story is based on the unlawful disclosure of classified information and internal deliberations of a sensitive nature.”

“As soon as we became aware of the material divulged to the reporter, we engaged Politico at the highest levels to prevent the publication of information that would put our troops and our operations at the airport at greater risk,” he added. “We condemn the unlawful disclosure of classified information and oppose the publication of a story based on it while a dangerous operation is ongoing.”

Tom Tillison

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