More Kabul attacks likely, US on alert as it attempts more evacuations ahead of deadline
The US said it believes there are still "specific, credible" threats against the Kabul airport after Thursday’s suicide bombing by the Islamic State at one of its gates killed nearly 80 Afghans and 13 US soldiers. "We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts. We're monitoring these threats, very, very specifically, virtually in real-time,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.
According to the White House, the next few days of an ongoing US evacuation operation are likely to be the most dangerous. US, which has taken about 111,000 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks, and allied forces are racing to complete evacuations of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans and to withdraw from Afghanistan by an August 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
The White House said about 4,200 people were evacuated from Kabul during a 12-hour period on Friday and US officials said a total of approximately 5,100 Americans had been airlifted, with about 500 more waiting to leave. Tens of thousands of Afghans are still waiting to be evacuated and a crowd of people could still be seen outside the airport to try to get onto evacuation flights.
Some US media, including the New York Times, cited local health officials as saying up to 170 people, not including the US soldiers, were killed in Thursday's attack—the deadliest incident for American troops in Afghanistan in a decade.
Two senior Taliban officials said their forces have taken up positions in Kabul airport and are ready to take full control as early as this weekend, as soon as U.S. forces leave. According to Reuters, one senior commander said Taliban forces had taken over most of the airport, "just not a small part where the Americans still are". "As soon as the Americans leave, they just have to give us the signal and we will then take over," a second Taliban official said.
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However, Kirby told reporters that the military section of the airport remains under US control. "They are not in charge of any of the gates. They are not in charge of any of the airport operations. That is still under US military control," Kirby said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the US expects some engagement with the Taliban will be necessary after the withdrawal to facilitate further evacuations. "The reality is, the Taliban control large swathes of Afghanistan, including the areas surrounding the perimeter of the airport. So by necessity, that is our option,” Psaki said.
Islamic State Khorasan Province has claimed responsibility for the attack, which the US said on Friday was carried out by one suicide bomber at an airport gate, not two as earlier stated.