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On November 2, 1982, a truck explodes in the Salang Tunnel in Afghanistan, killing an estimated 3,000 people, mostly Soviet soldiers traveling to Kabul.
The Soviet Union’s military foray into Afghanistan was disastrous by nearly every measure, but perhaps the worst single incident was the Salang Tunnel explosion in 1982. A long army convoy was traveling from Russia to Kabul through the border city of Hairotum. The route took the convoy through the Salang Tunnel, which is 1.7 miles long, 25 feet high and approximately 17 feet wide. The tunnel, one of the world’s highest at an altitude of 11,000 feet, was built by the Soviets in the 1970s.
The Soviet army kept a tight lid on the story, but it is believed that an army vehicle collided with a fuel truck midway through the long tunnel. About 30 buses carrying soldiers were immediately blown up in the resulting explosion. Fire in the tunnel spread quickly as survivors began to panic. Believing the explosion to be part of an attack, the military stationed at both ends of the tunnel stopped traffic from exiting. As cars idled in the tunnel, the levels of carbon monoxide in the air increased drastically and the fire continued to spread. Exacerbating the situation, the tunnel’s ventilation system had broken down a couple of days earlier, resulting in further casualties from burns and carbon monoxide poisoning.
It took several days for workers to reach all the bodies in the tunnel. Because the Soviet army limited the information released about the disaster, the full extent of the tragedy may never be known.
May 2017 Kabul bombing
On 31 May 2017, a truck bomb exploded in a crowded intersection in Kabul, Afghanistan, near the German embassy at about 08:25 local time (03:55 GMT) during rush hour,  killing over 150 and injuring 413,  mostly civilians, and damaging several buildings in the embassy.   The attack was the deadliest terror attack to take place in Kabul. The diplomatic quarter—in which the attack took place—is one of the most heavily fortified areas in the city, with 3-meter-tall (10 ft) blast walls, and access requires passing through several checkpoints.   The explosion created a crater about 4.5 m (15 ft) wide and 3–4 m (10–13 ft) deep.  Afghanistan's intelligence agency NDS claimed that the blast was planned by the Haqqani Network.   Although no group has claimed responsibility, the Afghan Taliban are also a suspect but they have denied involvement and condemned the attack.  
Truck explosion kills 3,000 in Afghanistan - HISTORY
KANDAHAR: A suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed Humvee into a police compound in Afghanistan on Friday, killing at least six officers and destroying a building, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the pre-dawn attack on the Maiwand district police headquarters in Kandahar, the latest deadly assault by the insurgents, who have been increasingly targeting security installations.
The vehicle was carrying an estimated 3,000 kilograms of explosives, Maiwand district police chief Sultan Mohammad said.
Taliban claim responsibility for the assault in Kandahar province
It was not possible to verify his claim. If true, that would be roughly twice the number of explosives used in a massive truck bomb in Kabul that left around 150 people dead in May.
“We have six police officers martyred and five wounded,” Mohammad said, adding the figures could change.
Kandahar police spokesman Ghorzang Afridi confirmed the death toll.
“All the victims were local policemen,” Afridi said.
Those killed were new recruits.
While Afghan officials routinely understate the casualty toll in attacks carried out by insurgents, it appears the attacker failed to reach the building where a large number of police were deployed.
Mohammad said the attacker got through the first checkpoint and then detonated the vehicle at the second security check after a policeman opened fire.
One building “was completely destroyed and two other buildings next to it were damaged too,” he said.
The force of the blast also blew out the windows of shops located two kilometres away, he added.
“The explosion was very loud and you could hear the sound of the blast miles away from the headquarters,” a local police officer told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
He put the death toll at eight with nine others wounded.
“The eight policemen who were killed have been removed or pulled out from under the rubble, and there were other policemen who went missing following the attack,” the officer said.
The Taliban have stepped up attacks on security installations as they seek to demoralise police and troops, and steal equipment to fuel the 16-year insurgency.
The militants have acquired “dozens” of armoured Humvees and pickup trucks in recent years, officials have said.
Some of those vehicles have been used in suicide attacks on police and military bases with devastating effect — including one in Kandahar in October that killed more than 40 Afghan soldiers.
Afghan forces, already beset by desertions and corruption, have seen casualties soar to what a US watchdog has described as “shockingly high” levels since Nato forces officially ended their combat mission in 2014 and began a training and support role.
Morale has been further eroded by long-running fears that the militants have insider help — everything from infiltrators in the ranks to corrupt Afghan forces selling equipment to the Taliban.
Hostage advocates concerned by U.S. pullout from Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AP) — Advocates for Americans held hostage overseas are raising concerns that the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan will make it harder to bring home captives from the country.
An annual report from the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, released Wednesday, examines the status of U.S. government efforts to secure the release of hostages and unlawful detainees in foreign countries. The report’s findings are based on interviews with former hostages and detainees or their representatives and relatives, as well as current and former government and military officials.
The report shows general satisfaction with changes instituted as part of a 2015 hostage policy overhaul, which included the creation of an FBI-led hostage recovery fusion cell and the appointment of a State Department envoy for hostage affairs. But it also raises potential areas for improvement, including more mental health and financial support for hostages and detainees who return from captivity. And it says more may need to be done to make hostage recovery a greater priority.
Among the concerns raised by hostage advocates interviewed for the report is that once American troops leave Afghanistan - a process the Biden administration has said will be completed by Sept. 11 — “it will become more difficult to generate the intelligence needed to find Americans and conduct rescue operations for current hostages held in the area.”
They include Mark Frerichs, a contractor from Lombard, Illinois, who vanished in January 2020 and is believed held by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, and Paul Overby, an American writer who disappeared in Afghanistan in 2014.
“They also fear that the further reduction of U.S. physical presence in the country is an erosion of the leverage needed to make progress on resolving these cases,” the report states. “It is perceived by some advocates that securing the release of these hostages was not made a precondition for any settlement during the peace talks in Doha, Qatar with the Taliban.”
The departure of all U.S. special operations from Afghanistan will make counterterrorism operations, including the collecting of intelligence on al-Qaida and other extremist groups, more difficult. The administration hopes to be able to compensate through the military’s wide geographic reach, which has only expanded with the advent of armed drones and other technologies.
The administration has said it will retain a U.S. Embassy presence, but that will become more difficult if the military’s departure leads to a collapse of Afghan governance.
The top U.S. peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, has told Congress that he has repeatedly demanded the release of Frerichs and has “enlisted the support of senior Qatari and Pakistani officials on his behalf.”
The foundation behind the report was created by Diane Foley, whose son, James, was killed by Islamic State militants in 2014 while in Syria as a freelance journalist. The deaths of James Foley and other Western hostages at the hands of IS operatives helped prompt the 2015 policy overhaul following complaints by hostage families that government officials had failed to sufficiently communicate with them and had even threatened prosecution if relatives tried to raise a ransom.
U.S. 'not winning' in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary tells Congress
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is “not winning” the war against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress on Tuesday, promising to brief lawmakers on a new war strategy by mid-July that is widely expected to call for thousands more U.S. troops.
The remarks were a blunt reminder of the gloom underscoring U.S. military assessments of the war between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Islamist militant group, classified by U.S. commanders as a “stalemate” despite almost 16 years of fighting.
“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,” Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mattis acknowledged that he believed the Taliban were “surging” at the moment, something he said he intended to address.
Some U.S. officials questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security. To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and more than 17,000 wounded since the war began in 2001.
The Afghan government was assessed by the U.S. military to control or influence just 59.7 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts as of Feb. 20, a nearly 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
A truck bomb explosion in Kabul last month killed more than 150 people, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a NATO-led coalition after ruling the country for five years.
On Saturday, three U.S. soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them in eastern Afghanistan.
Reuters reported in late April that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump was carrying out a review of Afghanistan, and conversations were revolving around sending between 3,000 and 5,000 U.S. and coalition troops there.
Deliberations include giving more authority to forces on the ground and taking more aggressive action against Taliban fighters.
Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate committee, pressed Mattis on the deteriorating situation, saying the United States had an urgent need for “a change in strategy, and an increase in resources if we are to turn the situation around.”
“We recognize the need for urgency,” Mattis said.
Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali Editing by Bernadette Baum and Grant McCool
The Taliban, which has often carried out bomb attacks in the past, issued a swift denial that it had any role and instead blamed factional rivalries in the government’s own camp, the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Saturday’s blasts occurred at the funeral of the son of the deputy Senate speaker, Mohammad Alam Izadyar, an ethnic Tajik ally of Abdullah. He died after being seriously injured in clashes during Friday’s protest.
Rahmatullah Begana, who was at the funeral, said the first explosion occurred as the mullah made the first call to prayer and as people scattered, it was followed by another.
“I saw a lot of people lying on the ground,” he said.
The violence further complicates the situation confronting U.S. and coalition officials as they work on plans expected to see an increase of between 3,000 and 5,000 in the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan.
As anger against the government has grown, Ghani’s international partners have become increasingly alarmed, with the United Nations calling for restraint and the U.S. embassy in Kabul warning against letting protests be taken over
“While peaceful demonstrations are welcome in a democracy, some narrow political elements used this opportunity to spark violence, resulting in more death and suffering,” the embassy said. The statement was released after Friday’s clashes but before the latest attacks on Saturday.
With much of the capital locked down by security forces, a group of around 200 protesters remained near the blast site in the center of town, sheltering from the sun in open tents.
Otherwise, security authorities in Kabul told people not to attend protests and demonstrations, citing the risk of attacks on large gatherings of people.
While unusually large, Wednesday’s truck bomb scarcely differed from a long series of previous high-profile militant attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan since most international forces left the country in 2014.
In the first three months of the year at least 715 civilians were killed across the country, after almost 3,500 in 2016, the deadliest year on record for Afghan civilians.
Reporting by Sayed Hassib, Mirwais Harooni and James Mackenzie Editing by Andrew Bolton
Explosion kills former Afghan TV presenter in capital
Afghans check car destroyed by an attached bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan,Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.A bomb attached to the vehicle of Yama Siawash, a former presenter on Afghanistan’s TOLO TV, exploded early Saturday, killing the journalist and two other civilians, Kabul police said. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A bomb attached to the vehicle of a former presenter on Afghanistan’s TOLO TV exploded early Saturday, killing the journalist and two other civilians, Kabul police said.
The death of Yama Siawash is being investigated, said police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz. No one has immediately claimed responsibility.
Siawash had recently begun working with Afghanistan’s Central Bank and was in a bank vehicle along with another senior employee, Ahmadullah Anas and the driver, Mohammad Amin. All died in the explosion, said Faramarz.
Violence and chaos have increased in Afghanistan in recent months even as government negotiators and the Taliban are meeting in Qatar to find an end to decades of relentless war in Afghanistan. The two sides have made little progress.
Washington’s peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been pressing for an agreement on a reduction in violence or a cease-fire, which the Taliban have refused, saying a permanent truce would be part of the negotiations.
The talks were part of a negotiated agreement between the United States and the Taliban to allow U.S. and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan, ending 19 years of military engagement.
According to initial reports, Siawash was near his home when the bomb attached to his car exploded. An eyewitness, Mohammad Rafi, said Siawash’s father and brother were the first to reach the vehicle that was engulfed in flames.
Rafi said all three of those killed were inside the car.
Siawash was a former TV presenter who anchored political programs on TOLO TV.
Separately on Saturday, a suicide attack in the southern Zabul province killed two civilians, according to police spokesman Hikmatullah Kochai. Acting on intelligence reports, Kochai said police intercepted the vehicle which was detonated by the bombers within. More than one assailant was inside the vehicle, he said. Seven civilians were wounded in the attack.
In southern Kandahar, a flatbed carrying several farmers hit a roadside mine killing five and wounding at least two others, said Bahir Ahmadi, spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
IEDs forced change on military
November marked 10 years since the first U.S. death in Afghanistan blamed on an improvised explosive device on Nov. 14, 2003. Video by Jack Gruber, USA TODAY
Lt. George Lopez, left, and Staff Sgt. Tim McNiel inspect a bridge. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
- The IED has killed more than 3,000 U.S. troops and wounded 33,000
- A weapon that costs a few hundred dollars each spawned a multibillion-dollar American response
- Elaborate equipment now protects troops, but doesn't guarantee their safety
ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Three sets of eyes peer out of a massively armored U.S. truck rolling slowly down Highway 1.
From inside their reinforced cocoon — constructed layer upon layer with ways to protect the human cargo inside — three Arizona National Guard Army engineers scan highway edges. They look for signs of digging, suspicious debris or any other anomaly in the dirt that hints at a buried explosive.
The rate of Americans dying or becoming dismembered by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), for 10 years the tormentor of U.S. forces, has dropped sharply as coalition troops withdraw from the battlefield. But lives still depend on what soldiers see or don't see. It's an enduring legacy of the homemade bomb that has created more American casualties over a decade and two wars than any other weapon.
What someone didn't see in the dirt along this same highway just 12 weeks earlier was a buried IED weighing hundreds of pounds. It killed 1st Lt. Jason Togi, 24, of Pago Pago, American Samoa, and an Afghan interpreter on a similar convoy mission riding in the same type of RG-31 armored truck.
"There's certain catastrophic explosions that it does not matter if you're in some sort of titanium ball," said Col. William Ostlund, commander of U.S. troops in this province.
So in the cramped quarters of the RG-31 this day, amid the smell of beef jerky and the cases of Burn and Rip It energy drinks, there lurks in the recesses of every soldier's mind one thought. Spc. Kyle Esplin, 22, who waits tables in Tucson Spc. Brody Crane, 24, a part-timer at a Bass Pro Shop in Mesa, Ariz. and Sgt. 1st Class Ramon Gomez, 33, who has a 5-month-old son, Emilio, back in Tucson, know that everything in their world could end in a violent millisecond.
"You don't want to think about it," Crane says over the vehicle intercom system.
Somewhere between more than half to two-thirds of Americans killed or wounded in combat in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been victims of IEDs planted in the ground, in vehicles or buildings, or worn as suicide vests, or loaded into suicide vehicles, according to data from the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization or JIEDDO.
That's more than 3,100 dead and 33,000 wounded. Among the worst of the casualties are nearly 1,800 U.S. troops who have lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast majority from blasts, according to Army data.
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When one of the first Americans serving in Iraq, 25-year-old Pfc. Jeremiah Smith, 25, of Odessa, Mo., died in an explosion under his vehicle in May 26, 2003, six weeks after the U.S. invasion ended, the military wasn't even sure what to call the thing that killed him.
The Defense Department inadvertently applied an oxymoron, saying he was "hit by unexploded ordnance." Officials couldn't possibly know at the time that this weapon — what would come to be called in military parlance an improvised explosive device, a term now in common usage by those in and out of uniform — would be the most destructive of two wars.
The terror of the weapon continues to this day. Even as American forces leave Afghanistan, small numbers of U.S. soldiers gamble their lives on bomb-ridden roads or pathways.
November marked 10 years since the first U.S. death in Afghanistan blamed, when it happened, on an IED: Sgt. Jay Blessing, an Army Ranger, killed when the "thin-skinned" or unarmored Humvee he was driving was hit by a buried bomb Nov. 14, 2003.
The military has since gone back to identify a few earlier cases that technically qualify as IED attacks, including the death of Navy SEAL Matthew Bourgeois, 35, of Tallahassee, from a land mine wired to homemade bombs near Kandahar on March 28, 2002.
The IED, made for as little as a few hundred dollars each and produced by the thousands yearly first in Iraq and then Afghanistan, has changed the arc of how America wages war and how military medicine cares for the wounded.
It is a considerable feat for a triggering device made of wood and wire. Displayed at an IED investigative office at Bagram Air Base, they look like junior high workshop projects.
The bombs radically affected how the American military could move around the war zone, creating a heavy reliance on helicopters and other aircraft in order to avoid roads, says Army Lt. Gen. John Johnson, JIEDDO director.
"They've caused us a lot of pain . a lot of effort and a lot of treasure," Johnson says.
Hundreds of millions in research dollars have been spent on understanding, identifying and treating the twin invisible maladies most often associated with these bombs: traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Military and private researchers estimate the number of uniformed victims in the hundreds of thousands.
The IED has given rise to a multibillion-dollar industry in vehicle and body armor, robots, ground-penetrating radar, surveillance, electrical jamming, counterintelligence, computer analysis and computerized prostheses.
The Government Accountability Office says it's impossible to estimate the total U.S. cost of fighting the bombs over two wars. But the Pentagon has spent at least $75 billion on armored vehicles and tools for defeating the weapons.
In 2007, when American troops were losing limbs from blasts about every other day on average, the word IED — a military acronym for "improvised explosive device" — was so widely used it formally entered the American lexicon, accepted into Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.
Fours year later, at the height of the Afghanistan War, the pace of U.S. troops suffering major amputations increased to one every 36 hours.
They call it "going boom." The first time for Spec. Leif Skoog, 23, a roofer back in Phoenix, was Oct. 3. He and Crane were in an RG-31 that was pushing an 8,000-pound roller in front of the vehicle, a device designed to detonate anything buried before the truck passes over it.
That's exactly what happened. The roller was destroyed, but the RG-31 survived. For those inside, there was the shock of the explosion, painful ear pressure, air made black with billowing dirt and dust, and a chemical smell that burned the nostrils.
Skoog, closer to the blast in the driver's seat, was stunned and disoriented. "It's not a physical wound," he recalls. "It's more like something doesn't feel right."
He showed signs of a mild traumatic brain injury from blast exposure, what scientists call the signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. With dizziness, headaches and minor concentration problems, Skoog was kept out of combat for two weeks.
Understanding the frequency of these wounds in a war where body and vehicle armor block shrapnel but the IED blast wave can still damage the brain was one of the hardest lessons learned by military medicine from modern wars.
"It was like a slow awakening for everybody," says Chris Macedonia, a doctor and former adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now-retired admiral Michael Mullen. "There were phenomena that were happening, particularly related to IEDs, that just didn't match what the education and teaching were before."
Doctors found that repeated mild brain injuries from blasts — without allowing the brain time to heal — can cause permanent neurological damage, risking later onset of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or the even more debilitating chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
A RAND Corp. report estimated in 2008 that perhaps 320,000 troops, even at that early date, had suffered concussions or mild brain injuries, mostly from blast exposure. Pentagon officials the next year put the number at 360,000.
Most were never diagnosed when the wounds occurred and sent right back into combat, and no one knows the accurate number today, says Terri Tanielian, a RAND senior research analyst.
Not until 2010, nine years into the fighting, did three military leaders — Mullen retired general Peter Chiarelli, then-Army vice chief of staff and Marine Commandant James Amos — push through sweeping battlefield treatment changes requiring blast-exposed troops to be pulled from combat until, as with Skoog, symptoms go away.
"It took us a long, long time," Macedonia says. "Too long."
MORE PROTECTION FOR TROOPS
As early as 2003, U.S. field commanders in Iraq began demanding for their troops something other than the boxy Humvees that were being ripped apart by this new weapon.
Soldiers and Marines had taken it upon themselves to add so-called Hillbilly armor to their vehicles or pile sandbags on the floorboards.
The Pentagon initially rushed kits to retrofit Humvees with better protection in 2003 and 2004. But the trucks remained vulnerable because of their "flat bottom, low weight, low ground clearance and aluminum body," a Pentagon inspector general report found.
A Bush administration certain the Iraq War would be short-lived failed to supply large numbers of new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) trucks like the RG-31 until 2007. In the meantime, more than 1,400 U.S. troops died in IED blasts and 13,000 were wounded, according to JIEDDO data.
It was a USA TODAY story about the effectiveness of a limited number of MRAPs in saving the lives of Marines that led then-Defense secretary Robert Gates to order a crash program to churn out 27,000 of the trucks, including an all-terrain version for Afghanistan.
The Pentagon says the trucks, featuring heavy armor and V-shaped hulls for deflecting blasts, saved thousands of lives.
About $2 billion was spent training troops in dealing with IEDs, with elaborate exercises involving actors, explosions and fake gore set up in the California desert at Fort Irwin to mimic combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another $7 billion went for intelligence operations to dismantle networks financing, producing and placing IEDs.
Today in the twilight of American involvement in Afghanistan, commanders are cutting the chance of death by IED even further.
Missions to clear roads, among the last going "outside the wire," are pulling back to paved highways where burying bombs is harder. Clearance convoys are shadowed by Apache attack helicopters. Night missions, peripheral lights ablaze, look like roving football stadiums.
And bomb-defeating technology on board has reached a crescendo.
The trucks are wrapped in netting that can deflect rocket-propelled grenades. Inside, soldiers wearing helmets, body armor, protective goggles and fortified underwear sit on shock-absorbing seats and track potential IED hot spots on computer screens.
From inside their armored vehicles, they can remotely inspect and probe suspicious ground with long metal arms. They can deploy robots big and small. They have electronic jammers, ground-penetrating radar and giant IED-uncovering rakes.
"There's been some crazy devices that we're not even going to use," Spc. Crane says about the many inventions provided to them.
An Obama administration eager to put the IED chapter behind it has pledged to avoid long-term operations where the bombs are a threat. And as troops come home, the Pentagon is gradually turning much of its MRAP fleet in Afghanistan into scrap.
Afghanistan Bomb Attack Targeting Schoolgirls Kills at Least 50 People
Sune Engel Rasmussen
KABUL—Militants killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 100 in three explosions targeting girls outside a school in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Kabul, officials said, an attack that could exacerbate sectarian tensions ahead of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The blasts hit the Sayed Shuhada school in the Dasht-e Barchi area of west Kabul, an area populated largely by the Shiite Hazara community. The area has suffered a string of deadly attacks in recent months.
No group claimed responsibility for the bombings. In the past, Islamic State’s regional affiliate, which considers Shiites to have rejected Islam, usually took credit for attacks targeting Shiite civilians. While the Taliban harshly oppressed the Hazaras when the movement ruled most of Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban now say they tolerate the Shiite minority.
A Taliban spokesman tweeted to condemn Saturday’s attack, accusing Islamic State of being behind it. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, however, blamed the Taliban. In a statement condemning the bombings, he said that “the Taliban, by intensifying their illegitimate war and violence, showed that they have no interest in a peaceful solution to the current crisis.”
The Sayed Shuhada school is home to male and female students studying in separate shifts. The explosions went off in the afternoon, as girls were leaving for the day.
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Massive Beirut blast kills more than 70, injures thousands
BEIRUT -- A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the city's port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. More than 70 people were killed and 3,000 injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said.
It was not clear what caused the blast, which struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany's geosciences centre GFZ, and was heard and felt as far away as Cyprus more than 200 kilometres (180 miles) across the Mediterranean. Lebanon's interior minister said it appeared that a large cache of ammonium nitrate in the port had detonated.
The sudden devastation overwhelmed a country already struggling with both the coronavirus pandemic and a severe economic and financial crisis.
For hours after the explosion, the most destructive in all of Lebanon's troubled history, ambulances rushed in from around the country to carry away the wounded. Hospitals quickly filled beyond capacity, pleading for blood supplies, and generators to keep their lights on.
For blocks around the port, bloodied residents staggered through streets lined with overturned cars and littered with rubble from shattered buildings. Windows and doors were blown out kilometres away, including at the city's only international airport. Army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.
Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi told a local TV station that it appeared the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the dock ever since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014. Witnesses reported seeing an orange cloud like that which appears when toxic nitrogen dioxide gas is released after an explosion involving nitrates.
Videos showed what appeared to be a fire erupting nearby just before, and local TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse was involved. The fire appeared to spread to a nearby building, triggering the more massive explosion, sending up a mushroom cloud and generating a shock wave.
Charbel Haj, who works at the port, said the blast started as small explosions like firecrackers. Then, he said, he was thrown off his feet.
The explosion came amid ongoing tensions between Israel and the Hezbollah military group on Lebanon's southern border. Many residents reported hearing planes overhead just before the blast, fueling rumours of an attack, though Israeli military overflights are common.
An Israeli government official said Israel "had nothing to do" with the blast. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the news media. Israeli officials usually do not comment on "foreign reports." The Israeli government offered emergency assistance through international intermediaries.
U.S. President Donald Trump said the U.S. "stands ready to assist Lebanon," and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended his "deepest condolences."
"Our team in Beirut has reported to me the extensive damage to a city and a people that I hold dear, an additional challenge in a time of already deep crisis," Pompeo said in a written statement.
The blast was stunning even for a city that has seen a 15-year civil war, suicide bombings, bombardment by Israel and political assassinations.
"It was a real horror show. I haven't seen anything like that since the days of the (civil) war," said Marwan Ramadan, who was about 500 metres (yards) from the port and was knocked off his feet by the force of the explosion.
Health Minister Hassan Hamad said the preliminary toll was more than 70 dead and more than 3,000 wounded. He added that hospitals were barely coping and offers of aid were pouring in from Arab states and friends of Lebanon.
Beirut's governor, Marwan Abboud, broke into tears as he toured the site, exclaiming, "Beirut is a devastated city." Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed that "those responsible will pay."
At the start of a White House news conference on the coronavirus, Trump said the explosion "looks like a terrible attack." When asked by a reporter if he was confident that it was an attack, Trump said: "I met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was."
But one of Israel's top bomb experts, Boaz Hayoun, said fireworks could have been a factor setting off the bigger blast. "Before the big explosion . in the centre of the fire, you can see sparks, you can hear sounds like popcorn and you can hear whistles," said Hayoun, owner of the Tamar Group, which works closely with the Israeli government on safety and certification issues involving explosives. "This is very specific behaviour of fireworks."
Some of those injured lay on the ground at the port, Associated Press staff at the scene said. A civil defence official said there were still bodies inside the port, many under debris.
Several of Beirut's hospitals were damaged in the blast. Outside the St. George University Hospital in Beirut's Achrafieh neighbourhood, people with various injuries arrived in ambulances, in cars and on foot. The explosion had caused major damage inside the building and knocked out the electricity. Dozens of injured were being treated on the spot on the street outside, on stretchers and wheelchairs.
Outside one hospital, Omar Kinno sat on the pavement, holding back tears. Kinno, a Syrian, said one of his sisters was killed when the blast rocked their apartment near the port, and another sister's neck was broken. His injured mother and father were taken to a hospital but he didn't know which, and he was making calls trying to track them down.
"I have no idea what happened to my parents. I am totally lost," he said.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, UNIFIL, said one of its ships in the port was damaged and a number of its peacekeepers were injured, some seriously.
Confusion reigned across the city, as people cleared out of damaged homes or tried to locate family. Motorcyclists picked their way through traffic, carrying the injured.
One woman covered in blood from the waist up walked down a trashed street while talking furiously on her phone. On another street, a woman with a bloodied face looked distraught, staggering through traffic with two friends at her side.
"This country is cursed," a young man passing by muttered.
The blast came at a time when Lebanon's economy is facing collapse from the financial crisis and the coronavirus restrictions. Many have lost jobs, while the worth of their savings has evaporated as the currency has plunged in value against the dollar. The result has thrown many into poverty and has put thousands out of their homes.
The explosion also raises concerns about how Lebanon will continue to import nearly all of its vital goods with its main port devastated.
The explosion -- reminiscent of the massive blasts that often erupted during Lebanon's civil war -- happened only three days before a UN-backed tribunal was set to give its verdict in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a truck bombing more than 15 years ago. That explosion, with a ton of explosives, was felt kilometres away, just as Tuesday's was.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet that his country was sending aid. Iran, Hezbollah's patron, also said it was ready to help. "Stay strong, Lebanon," its foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said in a tweet.
Associated Press reporters Sarah El Deeb in Beirut Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.
My brother sent me this, we live 10 KM away from the explosion site and the glass of our bldgs got shattered. #Lebanon pic.twitter.com/MPByBc673m— Abir Ghattas (@AbirGhattas) August 4, 2020
A red cloud hangs over Beirut in the wake of an explosion at the port on Tuesday. (AFP)
People carry a wounded after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Aftermath of a massive explosion is seen in in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)