The White House America’s evacuation efforts at Kabul airport have hit a “dangerous phase” amid warnings of another imminent terror attack.
Speaking from the White House briefing room on Saturday morning (Australian time), White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the US military’s last phase of its mission in Afghanistan was fraught because it involved bringing troops and equipment home.
Ms Psaki added that the number of evacuees would likely decline heading toward the August 31 deadline for the US to leave Afghanistan.
Pressed by journalists on security failures leading up to the deadly bombing on Thursday night, Ms Psaki conceded: “Clearly something went wrong here.”
An Islamic State suicide bomber killed at least 100 people including 13 US soldiers outside the gates of Kabul airport.
Islamic State (ISIS), an enemy of the Islamist Taliban as well as the West, said one of its suicide bombers targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army”.
US President Joe Biden has been warned that another terror attack in the Afghan capital Kabul is likely in the coming days.
At a meeting with his national security team, Mr Biden was told that all possible measures were being taken to protect US personnel and others at the city’s airport.
“The next few days of this mission will be the most dangerous period to date,” a White House official told US media, adding that US forces were looking at possible ISIS-K targets.
ISIS-K, or Islamic State Khorasan Province, is the group that claimed to be behind Thursday’s deadly airport attack.
The President was informed that despite any threat, US troops would continue with the evacuation mission until the 31 August deadline.
The mission would reportedly prioritise the remaining American citizens who wanted to leave, with US forces “engaged in a variety of means to get them to the airport safely”.
Mr Biden on Friday vowed the US would hunt down the terrorists responsible for the Kabul airport bombing.
Ms Psaki repeated that vow Saturday, saying America would “hunt down [and] go after” the perpetrators.
She is pressed by journalists on whether President Biden would be satisfied by capturing those involved and bringing them to trial.
Psaki responds: “I think he made clear he does not want them to live on the earth any more.”
General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said US commanders were watching for more attacks by Islamic State, including possibly rockets or car bombs targeting the airport.
Australian forces were able to evacuate 4100 people out of Taliban-held Kabul in a frantic nine-day mission, thanks to the presence of American and British defence forces guarding the airport.
The evacuees included about 3200 Australians and visa holders and 800 people from coalition partner countries.
There are 2500 people staying at Australia’s Dubai air base and 783 have either come to Australia or other countries.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne warned of a high threat of further terror attacks, meaning Australian evacuation flights had ceased.
Boris Johnson vow
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he will do his utmost to help any people in Afghanistan who are eligible for resettlement, but who the British armed forces are unable to evacuate from Kabul airport.
“As we come down to the final hours of the operation, there will also be people who haven’t got through, people who might qualify (for resettlement),” Mr Johnson said Saturday morning.
“What I say to them is that we will shift heaven and earth to help them, we will do whatever we can,” he added.
Mr Johnson said that he believed Taliban authorities understood the need to allow safe passage for Afghans who are eligible for resettlement in Western countries after 20 years of conflict.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace earlier said the threat of attacks would increase as Western troops got closer to completing the huge airlift and leaving.
“The narrative is always going to be, as we leave, certain groups such as ISIS will want to stake a claim that they have driven out the US or the UK,” Mr Wallace told Sky News.
ISIS-K was initially confined to areas on the border with Pakistan but has established a second front in the north of the country. The Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point says ISIS-K includes Pakistanis from other militant groups and Uzbek extremists in addition to Afghans.
Western countries fear the Taliban, who once sheltered Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda before it was ousted from power by the US-led 2001 invasion, will allow Afghanistan to turn again into a haven for militants. The Taliban say they will not let the country be used by terrorists.
Worries are growing that the remaining population will face a humanitarian crisis with the coronavirus spreading and shortages of food and medical supplies looming.
The World Health Organisation said it hoped to establish an air bridge into the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif with the help of Pakistani authorities to get medical supplies in.