News World Middle East Taliban now totally in charge of sealed-off airport

Taliban now totally in charge of sealed-off airport

Protesters outside the White House voice their contempt for President Biden's handling of the Afghanistan crisis. Photo: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Taliban forces have sealed off Kabul’s airport to most Afghans hoping for evacuation, as the US and its allies wound down a chaotic airlift that will end their troops’ two decades in Afghanistan.

Western leaders acknowledged that their withdrawal would mean leaving behind some of their citizens and many locals who helped them over the years, and they vowed to try to continue working with the Taliban to allow local allies to leave after President Joe Biden’s Tuesday’s deadline to withdraw from the country.

Although most of its allies had finished their evacuation flights, the US planned to keep its round-the-clock flights going until the deadline, saying 113,500 people had been evacuated since August 14, the day before the Taliban claimed Kabul.

Biden warned on Saturday that commanders had told him another attack was “highly likely in the next 24-36 hours”.

Britain was carrying out its final evacuation flights on Saturday, though Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to “shift heaven and earth” to get more of those at risk from the Taliban to Britain by other means.

Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, said in a video from Kabul airport and posted on Twitter that it was “time to close this phase of the operation now”.

“But we haven’t forgotten the people who still need to leave,” he said.

“We’ll continue to do everything we can to help them. Nor have we forgotten the brave, decent people of Afghanistan. They deserve to live in peace and security.”

Bombing’s toll continues to rise

As the flow of planes leaving Kabul slowed, others arrived in locales around the world carrying Afghans who managed to secure places on the last evacuation flights, including in the Washington area, Philadelphia, Madrid, Birmingham, England, among others.

An evacuation flight to Britain landed with an extra passenger on Saturday after the cabin crew delivered a baby girl mid-air, Turkish media reported.

Meanwhile, families of Afghans killed in Thursday’s suicide bombing at the airport by an Islamic State affiliate continued burying their dead – at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members died in the attack.

The US on Saturday released the names of the 13 Marines, Navy and Army personnel who were killed in the bombing.

They included at least one of the Marines – recently promoted Marine Sergeant Nicole Gee, 23 – who were seen in widely circulated photos cuddling Afghan infants they had temporarily rescued from the crush of the crowds outside the airport gates this month.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed on Saturday that the group’s forces were holding some positions within the airport and were ready to peacefully take control of it as American forces flew out. But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby denied the claim.

The Taliban did deploy extra forces outside of the airport to prevent large crowds from gathering in the wake of Thursday’s bombing.

New layers of checkpoints sprang up on roads leading to the airport, some manned by uniformed Taliban fighters with Humvees and night-vision goggles captured from Afghan security forces.

Areas where the crowds had gathered over the past two weeks in the hopes of fleeing the country were largely empty.

Officials said US forces were taking every precaution at the airport, as there were concerns that IS, which is far more radical than the Taliban, could strike again.

In his statement saying another attack was highly likely, Biden said a drone strike he ordered – that killed what military officials described as two “high-profile” IS militants believed to have been involved in planning or facilitating attacks – would not be his “last” response to Thursday’s suicide attack.