As the deadline set by the United States for leaving Afghanistan looms, desperation mounts in the capital, Kabul, with thousands still hoping to find a way to reach the city’s international airport and gain a place on a flight out. Now, however, the US has warned all those trying to access Hamid Karzai International Airport that they should cease their attempts, citing British and Australian warnings of a “high threat” of a terrorist attack at the site.
The Guardian notes that the security warnings were “specific.”
“Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” said the US State Department in a warning to its citizens, citing “security threats” that it did not detail. US citizens are being told to only approach the airport if they have received “individual instructions from a US government representative to do so.”
With virtually the entire country under the control of the Taliban, Kabul’s international airport, secured by US soldiers, is now almost the sole exit route from the country. Governments of several countries have been mounting rescue missions for their citizens and Afghan assistants via the airport; some countries are also venturing further afield in covert missions to evacuate stranded citizens and at-risk Afghans, with the notable exception of the United States.
Now, however, both Great Britain and Australia have identified serious security concerns regarding the airport’s perimeter and are telling people to shelter in “safe spaces” or attempt to flee the country via its land borders.
According to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, there is an “ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack” in the vicinity of the airport. The country has told its citizens and visa holders, “Do not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai international airport. If you’re in the area of the airport, move to a safe location and await further advice.”
The British government has issued a similar warning, adding, “If you can leave Afghanistan safely by other means, you should do so immediately.” Earlier, UK defense sources expressed specific concerns about the risk of a suicide bombing by the group Isis-K, an Islamic State-affiliated group.
Despite the warnings, however, an unnamed western diplomat told Reuters that huge crowds are continuing to flock to the vicinity of the airport, adding that while few flights departed the capital yesterday, on Thursday the numbers are supposed to pick up. According to The Guardian, at least 20 people have already lost their lives in the area immediately beyond the airport’s perimeter, apparently crushed by the desperate throngs.
Meanwhile, the United States continues to insist that it will abide by its August 31 deadline to leave the country, despite pressure from European allies to extend it and enable the rescue of more foreign nationals and Afghans at high risk of suffering retribution from the Taliban due to their having worked with the United States and other countries during the past two decades.
“That the overall deployment literally stands and falls with the stance of the militarily strongest member of the alliance, the US, was always clear to us,” German chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech to parliament on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in an apparent about-turn, Russia has now evacuated over 500 people on four military planes, having previously spoken optimistically about the possibility of establishing ties with the Taliban.
According to the White House, 82,300 Afghans, Americans, and others have been airlifted out of Kabul so far, via a mix of US, international, and private flights.