US starts troop withdrawal from Kabul; retaliates for airport blast
US drone attack killed two Daesh planners and wounded another in Nangarhar province, says US army official
US troops have begun their withdrawal from Kabul airport, the Pentagon said on Saturday, following a two-week scramble by Washington and its allies to fly out their nationals and Afghans at risk of reprisals under new Taliban rulers.
As it neared the end of a 20-year military involvement in the country, the US said it had killed two Daesh militants planning attacks in Afghanistan following a deadly bombing outside the airport on Thursday.
American officials also warned of a high risk of further attacks by the group — enemies of both the West and the Taliban — as it winds up its mission. The United States and allied foreign forces are seeking to withdraw by a Tuesday deadline set by President Joe Biden.
The airport blast, which killed scores of people including 13 US troops, highlighted the peril of the final stages of the mission. Biden promised on Thursday that Washington would go after the perpetrators.
An overnight US drone attack killed two Daesh planners and wounded another in Nangarhar province, US Army Major General William Taylor said, referring to an eastern area that borders Pakistan.
Residents of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, said they had heard several explosions from an air strike around midnight, though it was not clear they were caused by a US drone.
In Jalalabad, community elder Malik Adib said three people were killed and four were wounded in the air strike, adding that he had been summoned by the Taliban investigating the incident.
“Women and children are among the victims,” said Adib, though he did not have information about their identity.
The US military statement said: “We know of no civilian casualties.”
Although they are no friends of Daesh, the Taliban condemned the US strike.
“The Americans should have informed us (Taliban) before conducting the air strike, it was a clear attack on Afghan territory,” a Taliban spokesman told Reuters.
The Taliban have said they have arrested some suspects involved in the airport blast.
As of Saturday, there were fewer than 4,000 US troops at Kabul airport, the official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters, down from 5,800 at the peak of the evacuation mission.
Thursday’s suicide blast, claimed by Daesh-K, caused a bloodbath outside the gates of the airport — where thousands of Afghans have gathered to try to get a flight out since the Taliban returned to power.
The US-led invasion of Afghanistan began in late 2001 and overthrew the then-ruling Taliban in punishment for harbouring Al Qaeda militants behind the September 11 attacks that year. The airport attack was the most lethal incident for US troops in Afghanistan in a decade.
The White House said the next few days were likely to be the most dangerous of the evacuation operation. The United States and allies have taken about 111,900 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks, the Pentagon has said.
US officials said another attack against the Kabul airport was a near certainty, and there were fears that it could be more destructive than Thursday’s attack. The US Embassy in Kabul warned Americans to avoid the airport.
US media, including the New York Times, cited health officials saying Thursday’s blast had killed up to 170 people, not including the US troops.
Most of the more than 20 allied countries involved in airlifting their citizens and Afghans out of Kabul said they had completed evacuations by Friday.
While Kabul’s airport has been in chaos, the rest of the city has been generally calm. The Taliban have told residents to hand over government equipment including weapons and vehicles within a week, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Britain said the West should not recognise Taliban rule of Afghanistan unless they allow safe passage for those who want to leave, and respect human rights.
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