Afghanistan: US and allies warn of “high” terrorist threat at Kabul airport

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The United States has warned crowds trying to access Kabul airport to leave the area, with Britain and Australia citing the “strong threat” of a terrorist attack.

All three countries have called for people to stop trying to get to the airport, a painful call as people with virtually no other way to escape Afghanistan try to save their lives and those of their loved ones .

A flurry of nearly identical travel warnings from London, Canberra and Washington late Wednesday urged people gathered in the area to evacuate and move to a safe location.

Airport security warnings were specific. “Those at Abbey Gate, East Gate or North Gate should now leave immediately,” the US State Department said in a warning to its citizens, citing unspecified “security threats”. He advised people to only approach if “you are receiving individual instructions from a US government official to do so.”

The Australian Foreign Office said there was a “permanent and very high threat of terrorist attack” and told its citizens and visa holders: “Do not go to Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport. . If you are in the airport area, move to a safe location and wait for further advice.

London issued a similar warning, adding that “if you can leave Afghanistan safely by other means, you must do so immediately”. Previously, British defense sources had expressed particular concerns about the risk of a suicide bombing by the Isis-K group, a group affiliated with the Islamic State.

Late Wednesday, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Afghans who wish to flee to the UK might be better off “trying to reach the border” than waiting for the evacuation of the border. RAF.

Wallace, in a briefing to MPs, also said there were few spots left on British rescue flights, which have evacuated more than 11,000 people from Kabul since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan ago. less than two weeks.

However, on Thursday, hours after the warnings, an anonymous Western diplomat at the airport told Reuters huge crowds continued to crowd the airport gates.

The diplomat said evacuation flights would resume on Thursday after slowing down on Wednesday.

Securing passengers on the massive military transport planes that Washington and its allies leave from the airport every day has become an increasingly difficult and desperate task, as crowds, including distraught families, struggle to gain access to the airport. airport surrounded by the Taliban.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that as many as 1,500 Americans may have been waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan, a figure that suggests the United States could accomplish its highest priority for the airlift. Kabul – saving American citizens – before the deadline set by President Joe Biden on Tuesday. next week, despite growing concerns about terrorist threats targeting the airport.

However, thousands of Afghans at risk still find it difficult to enter the airport.

On Wednesday, several of the Americans working on the phone and pulling strings to bring out former Afghan colleagues, women’s advocates, journalists and other vulnerable Afghans told The Associated Press they had no more than present given that few concrete American actions to get these Afghans through the Taliban checkpoints and pass through the United States. -control of the airport gates to the promised evacuation flights.

“It is 100% up to Afghans to take these risks and try to get out of them,” said Sunil Varghese, policy director of the International Refugee Assistance Project.

At least 20 people have died in a desperate scramble in and around the airport, as many continue to wonder why the evacuations were not better planned.

Washington said the Taliban had assured Americans, “at risk” Afghans and people from other countries would be allowed to leave even after Tuesday’s deadline for the departure of US troops.

“They have a responsibility to honor this commitment and to provide a safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave the country,” Blinken told reporters.

But the American allies who were part of the coalition in Afghanistan have ended their own evacuations. Belgium, Poland and the Czech Republic have already ended evacuations from Kabul.

The French Minister of European Affairs, Clément Beaune, indicated that it was “very likely” that his operations to evacuate his citizens and partners will end on Thursday.

Other European countries including Germany and the UK, allies of the United States, had asked for a longer window, but Biden’s decision to stick to the August 31 deadline did not leave them no choice but to plan according to the deadline.

“The fact that the global deployment literally stands with the position of the strongest militarily member of the alliance, the United States, has always been clear to us,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech to parliament on Wednesday. .

She added that Germany “would continue the evacuation operation for as long as possible”, without specifying when the operations would end.

Russia evacuated more than 500 people aboard four military jets on Wednesday – its first airlift operation since the evacuations began, marking a change in Russia’s stance on Afghanistan.

Turkey has said it will start withdrawing the few hundred troops it has stationed at the airport. According to Reuters, the Taliban asked Turkey for technical assistance to manage the airport after the foreign forces left, but said the country could not have a military presence.

The White House said the Western forces airlift carried 82,300 Afghans, Americans and others on a mix of US, international and private flights.

Refugee groups paint a different picture from that of the Biden administration when it comes to many Afghans: a disorganized and barely present American evacuation effort that leaves the most desperate to risk beatings and death at police checkpoints. Taliban. Some Afghans have said they were turned away from Kabul airport by US forces controlling the gates, despite being cleared to fly.

“We still have 1,200 Afghans with visas who are outside the airport and have not entered,” said James Miervaldis with No One Left Behind, one of dozens of veterans groups working to bring out the Afghans who worked with the US military for nearly 20 years of fighting in the country. “We are awaiting news from the United States. government and haven’t heard of it yet.

Marina LeGree of Ascend, a US-based non-profit organization that has worked to develop fitness and leadership in Afghan girls and young women, described receiving calls from US officials telling interns and group personnel to go to the airport for evacuation flights, only to have them returned away by US forces keeping the doors closed against the crowds outside.

“It’s heartbreaking to see my government fail so badly,” said LeGree, the group’s US director, who is in Italy but in close contact with those in Kabul.

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