New Delhi, Sep 1: A major controversy has broken out in the western media over whether the deadly suicide bombing at Kabul airport on Thursday could have been averted had the decision of the top Pentagon commanders to shut the Abbey Gate on Thursday afternoon been strictly followed instead of allowing it to stay open till the evening when the explosion took place.
The decision to keep Abbey Gate open for longer is reported to have been taken by a field commander. However, this may turn out to be part of a blame game that could be playing out.
A report published by US news website Politico on Monday, based on notes leaked from the Pentagon, said top Pentagon commanders detailed a plan to close Abbey Gate at the Kabul airport by Thursday afternoon Afghanistan 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.
Consequently, 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, the report said.
However, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Tuesday that Britain co-ordinated closely with the United States and did not push to keep the gate open at the Kabul airport.
"We got our civilian staff out of the processing centre 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 told British TV news channel Sky News.
He said Britain had taken appropriate action, including warning people not to come to the airport.
"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," Raab said on BBC News.
Politico said its account of the internal conversations among top Pentagon leaders in the hours leading up to Thursday's attack at the airport is based on classified notes from three separate calls provided to Politico and interviews with two defense officials with direct knowledge of the calls. Politico said it was withholding information from the Pentagon readouts that could affect ongoing military operations at Kabul airport.
However, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby issued a statement saying: "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.
"We condemn the unlawful disclosure of classified information and oppose the publication of a story based on it while a dangerous operation is ongoing," he added.