US warns of more terror attacks at Kabul airport
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Bomb threats loomed over the final phase of the US military’s airlift operation from Kabul on Sunday, with President Joe Biden warning that another attack was very likely before evacuations were completed.
More than 112,000 people have fled Afghanistan via the massive US-led airlift since the Taliban movement returned to power two weeks ago, and the operation is drawing to a close despite Western powers claiming that thousands of people could be left behind.
What had once been a chaotic and desperate evacuation turned bloody Thursday when a suicide bomber from the local Islamic State group targeted American troops, preventing huge crowds of people from entering the airport.
More than 100 people died in the attack, including 13 U.S. servicemen, slowing airlifts ahead of Biden’s deadline for completing evacuations by Tuesday.
The Pentagon said on Saturday that retaliatory drone strikes killed two “high-level” ISIS jihadists in eastern Afghanistan, but Biden warned of further attacks by the group.
“The situation on the ground continues to be extremely dangerous and the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high,” Biden said.
“Our commanders have informed me that an attack is very likely within the next 24 to 36 hours.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul then issued an alert warning of credible threats in specific areas of the airport, including the access gates.
In recent years, ISIS’s Afghanistan-Pakistan section has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in these countries.
They massacred civilians in mosques, public places, schools and even hospitals.
While ISIS and the Taliban are both die-hard Sunni Islamists, they are bitter enemies, each claiming to be the true flagship of jihad.
– Unthinkable cooperation –
The IS attack forced the US military and the Taliban into a form of cooperation to ensure airport security that was unthinkable two weeks ago.
On Saturday, Taliban fighters escorted a steady stream of Afghans from the buses to the main passenger terminal, handing them over to US troops for evacuation.
The troops were seen from the civilian side of the airport grounds and ancillary buildings, as the US Marines watched them from the roof of the passenger terminal.
After a 20-year war, the enemies were within sight of each other, separated by only 30 meters.
The Taliban’s “Badri” special forces aboard the US Humvees were also offered to the now defeated Afghan army for US troops.
Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi tweeted that the group’s fighters had already moved to parts of the military side of the airport, but the Pentagon stressed that US forces retained control of the gates and bridge. air.
However, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said US troops have already started withdrawing – without saying how many were left.
– “Heartbreaking” –
Western allies who helped with the airlift have mostly already ended their flights, with some expressing desperation that they cannot evacuate everyone at risk.
The chief of the British armed forces, General Sir Nick Carter, told the BBC it was “heartbreaking” that “we weren’t able to get everyone out”.
French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, said talks have started with the Taliban to “protect and repatriate” Afghan nationals at risk beyond Tuesday.
France and Britain will urge the United Nations on Monday to work towards the creation of a “safe zone” in Kabul to protect humanitarian operations, he said.
“This is very important. It would provide a framework for the United Nations to act in an emergency,” he said.
The UN has said it is preparing for a “worst case scenario” of half a million more refugees from Afghanistan by the end of 2021.
At the airport, no more crowds of thousands of people swarming the perimeter, hoping to be let through and allowed to board a plane.
An AFP photographer on Saturday saw a journalist friend among those brought by bus for the evacuation.
They kissed briefly before separating.
âGood luck,â they said to each other, one staying behind and the other on the way to a new life.
Â© 2021 AFP