US forces on alert for more attacks in Kabul as evacuations speed up
Commanders watching for more attacks, including possible rockets or car bombs targeting the airport
US forces helping to evacuate Afghans desperate to flee new Taliban rule were on alert for more attacks on Friday after a Daesh attack killed 85 people including 13 US service members just outside Kabul airport.
General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said US commanders were watching for more attacks by Daesh, including possible rockets or car bombs targeting the airport.
“We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,” McKenzie said, adding that some intelligence was being shared with the Taliban and that he believed “some attacks have been thwarted by them”.
Thursday’s two blasts and gunfire took place near the airport gates where thousands of people have gathered to try to get inside the airport and onto evacuation flights since the Taliban took control of the country on Aug 15.
US and allied forces are racing to complete evacuations of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans and to withdraw from Afghanistan by an Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
A health official and a Taliban official said the toll of Afghans killed had risen to 72, including 28 Taliban members, although a Taliban spokesman later denied that any of their fighters guarding the airport perimeter had been killed.
It was not clear if suicide bombers detonated both blasts or if one was a planted bomb. It was also unclear if gunmen were involved in the attack or if the firing that followed the blasts was Taliban guards firing into the air to control crowds.
Video taken after the attack showed corpses in a waste water canal by the airport fence, some being fished out and laid in heaps while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.
Biden said on Thursday evening he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike the group that claimed responsibility.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said during televised comments from the White House.
Taliban guards have blocked the access to the airport on Friday, witnesses said.
“We had a flight but the situation is very tough and the roads are blocked,” said one man on an airport approach road.
Another 12,500 people were evacuated from Afghanistan on Thursday, raising the total airlifted abroad by the forces of Western countries since Aug. 14 to about 105,000, the White House said on Friday.
The United States will press on with evacuations despite the threat of further attacks, McKenzie said, noting that there were still about 1,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan. The pace of flights accelerated on Friday and American passport holders had been allowed to enter the airport compound, according to a Western security official inside the airport.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace 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 will want to stake a claim that they have driven out the US or the UK,” Wallace told Sky News.
Western officials acknowledge that thousands of Afghans seeking to leave will be left behind when the last US troops leave next week.
There are growing worries that Afghans will face a humanitarian emergency with the coronavirus spreading and shortages of food and medical supplies looming.
Medical supplies will run out within days in Afghanistan, the World Health Organisation said on Friday, adding that it hopes to establish an air bridge into the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif with the help of Pakistan.
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