Afghans told to avoid Kabul airport as IS threat emerges

SAMUEL RUIZ / US MARINE CORPS / AFP

The United States and allies urged people to move away from Kabul airport on Thursday due to the threat of an IS terror attack as Western troops hurry to evacuate as many Afghans as possible before an August 31 deadline.

Pressure to complete the evacuations of thousands of foreigners and Afghans who helped Western countries during the 20-year war against the Taliban has intensified, with all US and allied troops due to leave the airport next week.

In an alert issued on Wednesday evening, the US embassy in Kabul advised citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately, citing unspecified "security threats".

In a similar advisory, Britain told people in the airport area to "move away to a safe location".

"There is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack," the British Foreign Office said in its statement.

Australia also urged its citizens and visa holders to leave the area, warning of a "very high threat of a terrorist attack" at the airport.

The warnings came against a chaotic backdrop in the capital, Kabul, and its airport, where a massive airlift of foreign nationals and their families as well as some Afghans has been underway since the Taliban captured the city on August 15.

While Western troops in the airport worked feverishly to move the evacuation as fast as possible, Taliban fighters guarded the perimeter outside, thronged by thousands of people trying to flee rather than stay in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Another Western official said flight operations had slowed on Wednesday but the pace of evacuations would hasten on Thursday.

Taliban guards continue to protect civilians outside the airport, an official of the regime said.

"Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport, they face a threat too from the IS group," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The White House said President Joe Biden was briefed on Wednesday about the threat from the ISIS-K militant group as well as contingency plans for the evacuation.

Biden has ordered all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the month, to comply with an agreement with the Taliban, despite European allies saying they needed more time to get people out.

In the 11 days since the Taliban swept into Kabul, the United States and its allies have mounted one of the biggest air evacuations in history, bringing out more than 88,000 people, including 19,000 in the past 24 hours. The U.S. military says planes are taking off the equivalent of every 39 minutes.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at least 4,500 American citizens and their families had been evacuated from Afghanistan since mid-August, and the State Department was reaching out to about 1,500 who remained there.

Blinken told a news conference in Washington there was no deadline for the effort to help people who want to leave, both Americans and others, and that it would continue for "as long as it takes".

The US military said it would shift its focus to evacuating its own troops in the final two days before the August 31 withdrawal deadline.

The Taliban have said foreign troops must be out by the end of the month. They have encouraged Afghans to stay, while saying those with permission to leave will still be allowed to do so once commercial flights resume after the foreign troops go.

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