The UK will continue its operation to evacuate people from Afghanistan despite an attack at the capital’s airport, says Boris Johnson.
Speaking after an emergency meeting in No 10, he pledged the UK “will keep going to the last moment.”
The PM called the blasts – reportedly carried out by suicide bombers – “barbaric” and “despicable”.
Earlier, Mr Johnson said around 15,000 people – the “overwhelming majority” of those eligible – had been evacuated.
Two explosions hit the airport in Kabul on Thursday.
The twin blasts took place outside the Abbey Gate – where US and British forces have been stationed to help with evacuations – and at a nearby hotel, following warnings there could be terrorist incidents in the area.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said there had been “no reported UK military or UK government casualties”, but the US Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby, confirmed a “number” of US military personnel were killed.
The Taliban said at least 11 people had been killed in the blasts, although there has been no confirmation of this.
But Mr Johnson said the operation to evacuate people would continue “according to the timetable we have got”.
The US has set a deadline of 31 August for the withdrawal of its troops, with President Joe Biden rejecting calls from Mr Johnson and other allies for an extension.
The PM was updated on the situation at the airport and chaired an emergency Cobra meeting with government departments and security agencies in Downing Street this afternoon.
Afterwards, he told reporters: “I want to stress that this threat of a terrorist attack is one of the constraints that we’ve been operating under… in the big extraction that’s been going on, and we’ve been ready for it, we’ve been prepared for it.
“And I want to stress that we’re going to continue with that operation – and we’re now coming towards the end of it, to the very end of it, in any event.
“But, clearly, what this attack shows is the importance of continuing that work in as fast and as efficient manner as possible in the hours that remain to us, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Mr Johnson said the Foreign Office, Home Office and Border Force teams were “going to work flat out” to get people through “as fast as they can”.
He added: “We’re going to keep going up until the last moment.”
‘Owe a debt’
A statement from the MoD said: “Our primary concern remains the safety of our personnel, British citizens and the citizens of Afghanistan. We are in close contact with our US and other NATO allies at an operational level on the immediate response to this incident.”
Speaking earlier during a visit to the British military’s Permanent Joint Headquarters in north London, where he met troops involved in evacuation efforts, Mr Johnson said the UK’s airlift would “keep going for as long we can”.
He said we “owe a debt” to those Afghans who had “helped for the 20 years of the UK’s engagement in Afghanistan” and that work was continuing to find them homes and ways to “integrate into our society”
Kabul airport is currently being defended and run by the US, which has 5,800 troops on the ground – with the help of more than 1,000 UK troops.
Earlier, Armed Forces minister James Heappey declined to give a date for the last UK evacuation flights, but said it was likely that UK and other foreign troops would have to leave before the last American airlifts.
However, Mr Johnson insisted the US deadline would not mark the end of the UK’s efforts to help people wishing to flee the Taliban-controlled country, adding that the current airlifts were just the “first phase”.
“Even beyond the US deadline of 31 of this month, we hope to be able to continue to say to people, well you can come out.”
On Wednesday, the UK Foreign Office issued new guidance that people should stay away from Kabul airport due to the “high threat of a terrorist attack”.
The FCDO urged anyone in the area to “move away to a safe location and await further advice”. Australia and the US also issued alerts, telling those outside the airport to leave immediately.
In the update issued on Wednesday evening, the FCDO also warned that travelling by road was “extremely dangerous” with people alleged to have been “mistreated” on their way to the airport.