BREAKING: Explosion at Kabul Airport; Pentagon denies 36-hour limit on evac; UPDATE: NATO forces pull back from gates?

Is this the terrorist attack that Western countries feared enough to shut down evacuation operations? Or is this a coordinated military attack by the Taliban or others? It’s not yet clear, but an attack of some sort has been confirmed by multiple sources:

The description from BBC’s Sarwary makes it sound more like a military attack than just a suicide bomber, which is what the intel supposedly warned about. Fox’s Jennifer Griffin says it’s both:

These terrorist militias — including the Taliban — use suicide bombers for frontal assaults on occasion. An hour or so ago, there had been a report that an Italian evac plane had taken ground fire, too:

It’s just a few minutes into the event, however, and first details are usually unreliable. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed the explosion, but offered no other details:

We’ll update with more details as they become clear.

This could necessitate some changes to the retreat/rout from Kabul, which may have already begun. CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh reported early this morning that the Pentagon had begun to shut down evacuation operations in Kabul. With five days still left to go, a 36-hour window sounded stunning, and akin to an admission that the US was getting chased out of Afghanistan by terrorists.

Is that the case, or is this just milestone on the overall plan? Either way, as Paton Walsh points out, it involves leaving Americans and key Afghan allies behind:

It took the Pentagon almost three hours to respond to this report, even before the attack on the airport. Kirby finally took to Twitter to deny that a 36-hour window had been imposed:

There are two different evacuations taking place, though — a civilian evacuation, followed by the Pentagon’s planned “retrograde” out of Kabul. The security requirements for a military withdrawal are considerable and need much more work to accomplish without any backup. How do we get the last units out when we have no units for perimeter security? That process will be complicated and lengthy, and the US will want to have all its civilian evacuees out before it starts.

That 36-hour deadline sounds very much like a rational target for the civilian evacuation. Kirby’s response doesn’t differentiate between the two, and to be fair, Paton Walsh’s report doesn’t either — but he certainly seems much more focused on the issues of civilians getting left behind. After the explosion/attack on the airport, they may not even have those 36 hours for the civilian evac. Time might have even run out for some of our military personnel.

Update: First report of Americans wounded:

Politico’s sources say it was ISIS-K, and that casualties will be “heavy”:

It’s still not clear whether this was a one-off suicide bombing or the opening to an assault on the airfield. We have around 5500 troops on the ground there, but if the airfield is under attack, we will have difficulty reinforcing them … or extracting them.

Update: Fox is reporting a second explosion in Kabul that targeted a US rally point for evacuations:

Let’s stipulate that updates in real time often turn out to be based on confusion and error, so keep all this in mind as the story unfolds.

Update: The suicide attack at the gate did its damage:

Update: The State Department is again telling US citizens to stay away from the airport:

Update: Uh oh …

Once the perimeter starts to shrink, we’re down to hours.

Update: Not just a one-off suicide attack, Kirby confirms:

Update: We’re starting to see grisly video of the aftermath of the attack on the airport. I’ll link this for those who are interested, but just be warned that the images are very disturbing.