High risk at Kabul airport three days after US departure

An American soldier searches a woman in Kabul. / REUTERS

Biden warns that another attack is “highly probable” in the next 24-36 hours

A new attack on the Kabul airport is “very likely” on Sunday or Monday, warned US President Joe Biden, three days after withdrawing his troops from Afghanistan by complex and leaving it in Taliban hands. “The situation at the scene remains extremely dangerous and the threat of a terrorist attack at the airport remains high,” Biden wrote in a statement Saturday night. “Our commanders informed me that an attack was highly likely in the next 24 to 36 hours.”

A few hours later, the US embassy in Kabul urged its citizens to move away from the airfield “due to a specific and credible threat.” All this two days after the suicide bombing at the airport that, according to two health officials from the former Afghan government, left at least 90 civilians dead, a figure that local media puts at 170 people.

In addition, 13 US soldiers lost their lives in the worst blow against their military in Afghanistan since 2011. In response, Washington drone attacked interests in northern Afghanistan of the Islamic State of the Khorasan (IS-K), the branch of this jihadist group. in the region that claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. “Two major targets,” IS-K “organizers and operators,” were killed and another was injured, the Pentagon announced Saturday. “This attack will not be the last,” warned Biden. “We will continue to pursue every individual implicated in this heinous attack and we will make them pay for it,” he added.

Three days before August 31, the deadline for the US withdrawal after 20 years of war, the evacuations of those Afghans fearful of the new Taliban regime begin to come to an end at the Hamid Karzai airport. Heavily armed, Islamist fighters circulated on the grounds and buildings attached to the airport under the watchful eye of US marines stationed on the roof of the terminal, according to AFP journalists.

The Taliban cut the roads to the airport and only allow authorized buses to pass. AFP journalists saw a dozen buses unload their passengers at the main gate of the airport. In the aftermath of the attack, the Taliban and the Americans strengthened their collaboration. “We have lists of Americans … if your name is on the list, you can pass through,” a Taliban official told AFP.

112,000 evacuated

At the airfield, the last enclave controlled by foreign forces in Afghanistan, there is no longer a trace of the chaotic images of thousands of desperate people trying to leave the country. In total, some 112,000 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14, on the eve of the Taliban’s return to power, according to the latest US government figures.

Turkish officials negotiate with the Taliban to cooperate in the management of the airport. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that the Afghan regime will oversee security and proposed to Ankara to handle logistics.

Criticized at home and abroad for his management of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden vowed to respect the end of the airlift. NATO and the European Union had asked to extend it a few more days in order to remove all Afghans eligible for Western protection. However, many countries have already terminated their respective evacuation operations, acknowledging in several cases that they were leaving Afghan civilians behind in danger.

On Saturday night, the United Kingdom completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan with the departure of a flight carrying its last soldiers in the country. Hours earlier, the last plane with civilians on board had taken off from Kabul.

Defense Minister Ben Wallace estimated that up to 1,100 Afghans eligible to march to the UK were left ashore. The operation, which allowed the evacuation of 15,000 people, “went as well as it could”, but it was “heartbreaking” not having “been able to get everyone out,” acknowledged the head of the British armed forces, General Nick Carter.

France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Canada, Australia, among others, had already announced in previous days the end of their air bridges with Kabul. From Baghdad, where he is participating in a regional summit, French President Emmanuel Macron said he is “in discussions” with the Taliban and Qatar to continue with these evacuations when the US forces have left.

In their return to power, the Taliban try to present a more open and moderate image. But many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal and fundamentalist regime they imposed between 1996 and 2001, when they were toppled by an international coalition led by the United States.

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