Taliban’s Takeover of Afghanistan, Drone Attacks, Death Toll Rising

Written by on August 28, 2021

US President Joe Biden said an attack was “highly likely” at the airport in Kabul, where dwindling numbers are being flown out. The U.S. State Department estimates there are still about 350 Americans awaiting evacuation.

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President Biden warned Saturday that another terrorist attack at the Kabul airport sometime in the coming days was “highly likely,” and he promised that the U.S. retaliatory strike for Thursday’s suicide attack would not be the last.

The warning was yet another sign of the chaotic and dangerous situation as the U.S. tried to pull the last remaining Americans and Afghans out of a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan before the Tuesday deadline.

A suicide attack claimed by Islamic State militants that killed scores of people outside the Kabul airport this week has brought further anguish to the country and hindered evacuation efforts.

In a statement, Mr. Biden said another attack was “highly likely” in the next 24-36 hours. He added that he had directed the U.S. military to “protect our men and women on the ground.”

He also said that Friday’s retaliatory strike, which killed two ISIS militants, “was not the last.”

“We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay,” he said in a statement. “Whenever anyone seeks to harm the United States or attack our troops, we will respond. That will never be in doubt.”

Many countries were pulling their troops out of Afghanistan. France ended its efforts on Friday, and Britain’s evacuation of its citizens was ending on Saturday, Nick Carter, the chief of the defense staff, told the BBC’s Radio 4.

“We haven’t been able to bring everybody out, and that has been heartbreaking,” Gen. Carter told the BBC. “There have been some very challenging judgments that have had to be made on the ground.”

The U.S. State Department said Saturday that about 350 Americans were still awaiting evacuation from Afghanistan. Another 280 people who “self-identified” as Americans do not intend to leave or “have not informed us of their plans,” a statement said. The United States has repeatedly warned Americans to stay away from the airport because of the threat of attack.

With three days remaining before President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops, the mission is shifting from airlifting people in Afghanistan to bringing home American military personnel.

On Saturday, a Pentagon official said about 6,800 people had been evacuated from the Kabul airport over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 117,000 since the operation began on Aug. 14. Evacuations were down from early Thursday, prior to the suicide attack, when White House officials said that 13,400 people had been airlifted in the previous 24 hours.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are still thought to be seeking to flee the country, yet Mr. Biden and other global leaders have acknowledged that many will not get out before the deadline.

There were signs on Saturday that the evacuation effort at the airport was slowing.

Roads leading to the airport were closed, and the large crowds that had strained in recent days to push inside had dissipated in the aftermath of the bombing, which struck as U.S. troops were screening people trying to enter.

Most gates were closed Saturday, and few people were getting through. At the airport’s South Gate, which remained open Saturday, buses carrying hundreds of people lined up, their processing slowed by the close screening for explosives.

Thursday’s attack was one of the deadliest in the nearly two decades since the U.S.-led invasion, killing 13 American service members and as many as 170 civilians.

For the first time, Pentagon officials publicly acknowledged on Saturday the possibility that some of the people killed in the aftermath of the suicide bombing at Kabul airport may have died in gunfire coming from American service members after the suicide bomber detonated himself.

Pentagon officials also said that two Islamic State militants were killed and one was wounded in Friday night’s drone strike in Nangarhar Province as part of the American retaliation for the suicide bombing at the airport.

Michael Levenson

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