Afghanistan: US warns of Islamic State attack risk at Kabul airport

Credit: AP

The US has warned its citizens in Afghanistan not to travel to Kabul airport due to potential threats from the Islamic State.

A security warning on Saturday told American evacuees to stay away unless they receive individual instruction from a US government representative.

A US official said small groups of Americans and possibly other civilians will be given specific instructions on what to do, including movement to transit points where they can be gathered up by the military. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.

Officials declined to provide more specifics about the IS threat but described it as significant. They said there have been no confirmed attacks as of yet.

Time is running out ahead of President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline to withdraw most remaining US troops. In his remarks on the situation on Friday, Biden did not commit to extending it, though he did issue a new pledge to evacuate not only all Americans in Afghanistan, but also the tens of thousands of Afghans who have aided the war effort since September 11 2001. That promise would dramatically expand the number of people the US evacuates.

A Taliban fighter stands guard at a checkpoint in Wazir Akbar Khan in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan Credit: Rahmat Gul/AP

Biden faces growing criticism as videos depict pandemonium and occasional violence outside the airport. Additionally, vulnerable Afghans who fear the Taliban’s retaliation have been sending desperate pleas not to be left behind. The Islamic State group - which has long declared a desire to attack America and US interests abroad - has been active in Afghanistan for a number of years, carrying out waves of horrific attacks, mostly on the Shiite minority.

The group has been repeatedly targeted by US airstrikes in recent years, as well as Taliban attacks. But officials say fragments of the group are still active in Afghanistan, and the US is concerned about it reconstituting in a larger way as the country comes under divisive Taliban rule.

Meanwhile, the Taliban’s top political leader arrived in Kabul for talks on forming a new government. The presence of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who returned to Kandahar earlier this week from Qatar, was confirmed by a Taliban official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the news media.

A desperate mother passes her baby to US soldiers at the airport

Baradar negotiated the religious movement’s 2020 peace deal with the US, and he is now expected to play a key role in negotiations between the Taliban and officials from the Afghan government that the militant group deposed. Afghan officials familiar with talks held in the capital say the Taliban have said they will not make announcements on their government until the August 31 deadline for the troop withdrawal passes. Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official in the ousted government, tweeted that he and ex-President Hamid Karzai met Saturday with Taliban’s acting governor for Kabul, who “assured us that he would do everything possible for the security of the people” of the city.

On Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said around 1,000 people a day were being evacuated amid a “stabilisation” at the airport. But the next day, a former Royal Marine-turned charity director in Afghanistan said the situation was getting worse, not better. “We can’t leave the country because we can’t get into the airport without putting our lives at risk,” Paul Farthing told the BBC.

On Sunday, the British military reported the deaths of another seven Afghan civilians at Kabul airport.

US soldiers stand guard along a perimeter at the international airport in Kabul. Credit: AP

The German military said in a tweet that one plane left Kabul on Saturday with 205 evacuees, while a second aircraft carried only 20.

The Italian Defense Ministry announced the evacuation of 211 Afghans, which it said brought to 2,100 the number of Afghan workers at Italian missions and their families who have been safely evacuated.

The Biden administration is considering calling on US commercial airlines to provide planes and crews to assist in transporting Afghan refugees once they are evacuated from their country by military aircraft.

Under the voluntary Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, civilian airlines add to military aircraft capability during a crisis related to national defense. The US Transportation Command said on Saturday it had issued a warning order to US carriers on the possible activation of the program.

If called upon, commercial airlines would transport evacuees from way stations outside Afghanistan to another country or from Virginia’s Dulles International Airport to US military bases.