The IS threat is forcing US changes in the evacuation at Kabul airport


KABUL, Afghanistan – Potential Islamic State threats to Americans in Afghanistan are forcing the U.S. military to develop new ways to bring evacuees to Kabul airport, a senior U.S. official said on Saturday, adding a new complication to already chaotic efforts to drag people out of the country after its rapid fall. Taliban.

The official said that small groups of Americans and probably other civilians would be given special instructions on what to do, including moving to transit points where they could be assembled by the military. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.

The changes come after the U.S. embassy issued a new security warning on Saturday urging citizens not to travel to Kabul airport without individual instructions from U.S. government officials. Officials declined to give more details about the IS threat, but described it as significant. They said there had been no confirmed attacks so far.

Biden is facing growing criticism as videos show pandemonium and occasional violence outside the airport, and vulnerable Afghans fearing retaliation from the Taliban are sending desperate pleas not to be forgotten.

The Islamic State group – which has long expressed a desire to attack America and American interests abroad – has been active in Afghanistan for many years, carrying out waves of horrific attacks, mostly on the Shiite minority. The group has been the target of U.S. airstrikes as well as Taliban attacks on several occasions in recent years. But officials say parts of the group are still active in Afghanistan, and the U.S. is worried it will re-establish as the country is under Taliban rule that shares divisions.

Despite the warning of the American embassy, ​​the crowds remain in front of the concrete barriers of the airport in Kabul, holding documents and sometimes stunned children, blocked from flying by coils of razor wire.

Meanwhile, the top Taliban political leader arrived in Kabul for talks on forming a new government. The presence of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who returned to Kandahar from Qatar earlier this week, was confirmed by a Taliban official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Baradar negotiated a religious movement peace agreement with the United States in 2020, and is now expected to play a key role in negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government officials overthrown by the militant group.

Afghan officials familiar with the talks in the capital say the Taliban have said they will not announce their government until the August 31st withdrawal deadline.

Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official in the ousted government, tweeted that he and former President Hamid Karzai met on Saturday with acting Taliban governor Kabul, who “assured us he would do everything possible for the safety of the people” of the city.

Evacuations continued, although some outbound flights were not complete due to the chaos at the airports. The German army announced in a tweet that one plane left Kabul on Saturday with 205 evacuees, while the other plane carried only 20. Italy announced the evacuation of 211 Afghans on Saturday. The defense ministry said the latest flight had 2,100 Afghans working with Italian interests before taking over the Taliban and their family members who were evacuated.

On Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said about 1,000 people were evacuated daily amid “stabilization” at the airport. But on Saturday, the former director of the humanitarian organization Royal Marine in Afghanistan said the situation was getting worse, not getting better.

“We can’t leave the country because we can’t enter the airport without endangering our lives,” Paul Farthing told BBC radio.

Army Major General Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Staff for Regional Operations, told Pentagon reporters on Saturday that the U.S. had evacuated 17,000 people via Kabul airport since Aug. 15. About 2,500 were Americans, he said. U.S. officials have estimated that there are as many as 15,000 Americans in Afghanistan, but admit they do not have solid numbers. In the past day, about 3,800 civilians have been evacuated from Afghanistan by a combination of U.S. military and charter flights, Taylor said. Three flights of evacuated Afghans arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC

The evacuation was hampered by checks and logistical efforts at passing stations, such as al-Udeid air base in Qatar. U.S. officials said they have a limited number of inspections and are struggling to resolve problems in the inspection systems.

Taylor said Kabul airport remains open, and that Americans continue to be processed if they reach the gates, but he and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the picture of the threat is changing by the hour.

“We know we’re fighting both time and space,” Kirby said. “It’s a race we’re in right now.”

So far, 13 countries have agreed to at least temporarily host vulnerable Afghans, said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Another 12 agreed to serve as transit points for evacuees, including Americans and others.

“We are tired. We are happy. We are now in a safe country,” said one Afghan upon arriving in Italy with 79 fellow citizens, speaking in a video distributed by the country’s defense ministry.

But a growing question for many other Afghans is, where will they finally call home? European leaders who fear a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis are already signaling that in order to escape, Afghans who did not help Western forces during the war should instead stay in neighboring countries.

Staying in Afghanistan means adjusting to life under the Taliban, who say they are looking for an “inclusive, Islamic” government, will offer a full amnesty to those who worked for the United States and a Western-backed government and have become more moderate since they last ruled in 1996. until 2001. They also said – without elaboration – that they would respect women’s rights within the norms of Islamic law.

But many Afghans fear a return to the brutal Taliban rule in the late 1990s, when the group banned women from attending school or working outside the home, banned television and music, cut off the hands of suspected thieves and held public executions.

“Some of my friends went to court today and the Taliban did not let them into their offices. They showed their weapons and said, ‘You have no right to work in this government if you have worked in the past,’ ”one female activist in Kabul told the Associated Press on Saturday. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

With a Turkish visa, but no way to get to the airport safely, the activist described the gap between the words and actions of the Taliban as “very alarming”.


Faiez reported from Istanbul, Gannon from Islamabad, and Baldor from Washington. Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy; Matt Lee in Washington; and Geir Moulson of Berlin contributed to this report.


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