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Kabul airport attack kills 60 Afghans, 13 US troops

KABUL, Afghanistan

Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover. The attacks killed at least 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops, Afghan and U.S. officials said.

The U.S. general overseeing the evacuation said the attacks would not stop the United States from evacuating Americans and others, and flights out were continuing. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said there was a large amount of security at the airport, and alternate routes were being used to get evacuees in. About 5,000 people were awaiting flights on the airfield, McKenzie said.

The blasts came hours after Western officials warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport. But that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the U.S. officially ends its 20-year presence Tuesday.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the killings on its Amaq news channel. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan is far more radical than the Taliban, who recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz. The Taliban were not believed to have been involved in the attacks and condemned the blasts.

In an emotional speech from the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden said the latest bloodshed would not drive the U.S. out of Afghanistan earlier than scheduled, and that he had instructed the U.S. military to develop plans to strike IS.

“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said.

U.S. officials initially said 11 Marines and one Navy medic were among those who died. Another service member died hours later. Eighteen service members were wounded and officials warned the toll could grow. More than 140 Afghans were wounded, an Afghan official said.

One of the bombers struck people standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water. Those who moments earlier had hoped to get on flights out could be seen carrying the wounded to ambulances in a daze, their own clothes darkened with blood.

Emergency, an Italian charity that operates hospitals in Afghanistan, said it had received at least 60 patients wounded in the airport attack in addition to 10 who were dead when they arrived.

“Surgeons will be working into the night,” said Marco Puntin, the charity’s manager in Afghanistan. The wounded overflowed the triage zone into the physiotherapy area and more beds were being added, he said.

The Afghan official who confirmed the overall Afghan toll spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said one explosion was near an airport entrance and another was a short distance away by a hotel. McKenzie said clearly some failure at the airport allowed a suicide bomber to get so close to the gate.

He said the Taliban has been screening people outside the gates, though there was no indication that the Taliban deliberately allowed Thursday’s attacks to happen. He said the U.S. has asked Taliban commanders to tighten security around the airport’s perimeter.

Adam Khan was waiting nearby when he saw the first explosion outside what’s known as the Abbey gate. He said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who were maimed.

The second blast was at or near Baron Hotel, where many people, including Afghans, Britons and Americans, were told to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation. Additional explosions could be heard later, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said some blasts were carried out by U.S. forces to destroy their equipment.

A former Royal Marine who runs an animal shelter in Afghanistan says he and his staff were caught up in the aftermath of the blast near the airport.

“All of a sudden we heard gunshots and our vehicle was targeted. Had our driver not turned around he would have been shot in the head by a man with an AK-47,” Paul “Pen” Farthing told Britain’s Press Association news agency.

Farthing is trying to get staff of his Nowzad charity out of Afghanistan, along with the group’s rescued animals.

He is among thousands trying to flee. Over the last week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most searing images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the Taliban’s takeover, as flight after flight took off carrying those who fear a return to the militants’ brutal rule. When the Taliban were last in power, they confined women largely to their home and widely imposed draconian restrictions.

Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and begun to withdraw their soldiers and diplomats, signaling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. The Taliban have insisted foreign troops must be out by America’s self-imposed Tuesday deadline—and the evacuations must end then, too.

In Washington, Biden spent much of the morning in the secure White House Situation Room where he was briefed on the explosions and conferred with his national security team and commanders on the ground in Kabul.

Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from IS, which has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during its advance through Afghanistan.

Shortly before the attack, the acting U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was “clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling.” But in an interview with ABC News, he would not give details.

Late Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, denied that any attack was imminent at the airport, where the group’s fighters have deployed and occasionally used heavy-handed tactics to control the crowds. After the attack, he appeared to shirk blame, noting the airport is controlled by U.S. troops.

Before the blast, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at those gathered at one airport gate to try to drive the crowd away as someone launched tear gas canisters elsewhere.

Nadia Sadat, a 27-year-old Afghan, carried her 2-year-old daughter with her outside the airport. She and her husband, who had worked with coalition forces, missed a call from a number they believed was the State Department and were trying to get into the airport without any luck. Her husband had pressed ahead in the crowd to try to get them inside.

“We have to find a way to evacuate because our lives are in danger,” Sadat said. “My husband received several threatening messages from unknown sources. We have no chance except escaping.”

Aman Karimi, 50, escorted his daughter and her family to the airport, fearful the Taliban would target her because of her husband’s work with NATO.

“The Taliban have already begun seeking those who have worked with NATO,” he said. “They are looking for them house-by-house at night.”

The Sunni extremists of IS, with links to the group’s more well-known affiliate in Syria and Iraq, have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.

The Taliban have fought against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have wrested back control nearly 20 years after they were ousted in a U.S.-led invasion. The Americans went in following the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaida orchestrated while being sheltered by the group.

Amid the warnings and the pending American withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuations, and European nations halted or prepared to stop their own operations.

The Taliban have said they’ll allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the deadline next week, but it remains unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants. Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said talks were underway between his country and the Taliban about allowing Turkish civilian experts to help run the facility.

Part-time worker Chris Valley scoops out algae and debris from the stream the meanders through the Japanese garden at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville on Thursday.

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Former Gazette editor Mitchell Bliss dies at 96


H. Mitchell Bliss came to Janesville to take a newspaper job in 1957, beginning a longtime love affair with the community.

Mitch, as most people called him, died Thursday at age 96.

Over the years, Bliss was active with local Optimist clubs and helped found the Janesville Boys & Girls Club and the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame.

Bliss covered police, courts and Janesville City Hall for The Janesville Gazette until 1965, when he was named city editor.

Bliss—no relation to the Bliss family that owned the paper from 1883 to 2019—left The Gazette in 1967 to work in public relations for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

He returned to The Gazette in 1972, was named news editor in 1973 and became the top editor in 1983. He retired in 1989 but continued to write the column Listening Post for the next 15 years.

Retired Gazette reporter Shelly Birkelo, whom Bliss hired in 1977, was a longtime friend. He asked her recently to help him update his obituary.

“He believed in me. I had no college degree. He hired me because he said I worked on the farm, and he knew I would be a hard worker,” Birkelo recalled.

Bliss had worked on his grandfather’s farm in New York as a boy, a time he remembered fondly, according to his daughter, Dena Bliss.

Dena said her father loved his years in journalism and taught writing at UW-Rock County, now UW-Whitewater at Rock County.

“He was all excited when he had to go cover this or cover that or go to The Associated Press convention,” Dena recalled. “Back in the day, I swear, he knew everyone. He loved to nose around.”

Over the years, Bliss was active with the YMCA’s Men’s Club, Janesville Chamber of Commerce and the Easter Seals campaign. He was a faithful volunteer with the Jackson Elementary School Breakfast Club.

Bliss was in the Navy during World War II, starting in 1943. He served as a signalman in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. In his later years, he went on the VetsRoll bus tour to Washington, D.C., and visited Pearl Harbor.

Asked what her father might say in farewell to Janesville, Dena said, “That he just loved the community.”

A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 3, at Milton Lawns Memorial Park in Janesville.

Tyler Holte (18) and Alex Peete (at right) celebrate after a touchdown during a 2019 season that saw the UW-Whitewater football team advance to the NCAA Division III championship game. The Warhawks did not play in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Obituaries and death notices for Aug. 27, 2021

H. Mitchell Bliss

Wanda Esther Graf

Catalytic converter thefts reported

Automobile owners might want to guard their catalytic converters, especially if they drive a Toyota Prius.

Statistics indicate theft of catalytic converters is increasing statewide, and area auto businesses are hearing reports of them being taken, sometimes during daylight hours.

At F&F Tire World, 564 E. Grand Ave., Beloit, Manager Troy Zeppieri said he has helped customers with three to four thefts of catalytic converters in the past month. The thefts have been primarily from Priuses, although it has happened to some models of diesel trucks.

Zeppieri said the Prius converters can be recycled or sold for $600 to $800. Unfortunately, it can cost around $1,500 to $1,600 or more to replace one. There is the cost of the replacement part, sensors and other components, and labor.

Zeppieri said those who take them might work in a pairs, with one person jacking up one side of the vehicle as the other slips underneath to remove the converter. A theft can be pulled off in a matter of minutes. With only one side jacked up, people nearby might not even see it happening.

A Beloit Memorial Hospital worker said her car’s catalytic converter was stolen during a recent daytime shift, according to Zeppieri.

Zeppieri advises people with Priuses to consider installing a catalytic converter shield.

“It’s a plate you can mount under the car, and it protects the converter and doesn’t allow access,” he said.

The shields are around $300 and can be ordered online.

“If you have a Prius with the original converter, it’s definitely worth it,” he said.

In late March, South Beloit police officers assisted the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department with an in-progress burglary of auto parts, including catalytic converters, at Erickson Auto Parts & Services, 4917 Prairie Hill Road, South Beloit. Three suspects were arrested, according to South Beloit Police Chief Adam Truman.

Truman said it was a professional theft ring that had stolen tens of thousands of dollars throughout the state and region, as well as in other states, including Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana.

Truman said he hasn’t noticed an increase in such crimes since the March 28 bust.

But catalytic converter thefts have nearly doubled this year, according to BeenVerified Digital PR Manager Richard Gargan.

BeenVerified estimates there were 25,969 car part thefts in the United States in 2021, an 80% increase from the 14,433 thefts in 2020.

Toyota, Honda and Lexus vehicles are top targets, Gargan said. Hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, are hit the most because their converters are worth more as the metals inside are used less.

This is happening due to a precious metals shortage related to the global pandemic, with thieves commanding high prices on illegal markets for the platinum, palladium and rhodium contained within the car parts.

BeenVerified, a leading public data company, analyzed 2019 and 2020 catalytic converter theft data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau between January 2019 and May 2021. There was a clear correlation between Google searches for “catalytic converter thefts” and thefts in 2019 and 2020.

According to the BeenVerified study, Wisconsin catalytic converter thefts were up 448% in 2020 from 2019. So far this year, the number of thefts is estimated to have already surpassed last year’s theft numbers in just the first five months of the year by 56%.

Wisconsin has on average 18 thefts per 100,000 registered automobiles in the state, the 16th highest in the nation. The study looked at the comparison of insured thefts from the NICB, so the actual theft rates could be higher.