Australian troops left Kabul airport before suicide attack

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – No Australian troops were killed in the suicide bomb attack in Kabul airport and all its military personnel left Afghanistan before the strike, Defence Minister Peter Dutton said on Friday.

Islamic State struck the crowded gates of Kabul airport in a suicide bomb attack on Thursday, killing scores of civilians and 12 U.S. troops, and throwing into mayhem the airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee.

Dutton did not commit or rule out sending Australian troops back to Afghanistan if there were any requests from the United States, after President Joe Biden said he had asked the Pentagon to develop plans to strike back at the perpetrators.

“We will see what the Americans have to say in coming days. The focus at the moment is on making sure that the Americans, the Brits and those that remain in Kabul can be uplifted safely. That is the only focus at the moment,” Dutton told reporters in Canberra.

Dutton warned there could be more attacks and urged Australians and other visa holders to stay away from the Kabul airport. He said authorities are trying to find if any Australian citizens or residents were killed in the attack.

Australia on Wednesday had urged its citizens and those with a visa for Australia to leave the areas near Kabul airport on a terror threat after evacuating people for more than a week. It has so far evacuated more than 4,000 people out of Afghanistan.

Many of these remain in the United Arab Emirates and Dutton said repatriation flights will continue to fly all those to Australia.

Australia was part of a NATO-led international force that battled the Taliban and trained Afghan security forces in the years after they were ousted in 2001. More than 39,000 Australian troops served in Afghanistan and 41 were killed.