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Taliban solidify control around Kabul airport amid evacuations, US issues alert

Afghanistan: The Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul is the last remaining access point for the international community to reach out to people in the war-torn country.
This handout photo courtesy of the US Air Force shows loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load passengers aboard a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Afghanistan on August 24, 2021. (AFP)
Updated on Aug 26, 2021 08:23 AM IST
Written by Joydeep Bose | Edited by Amit Chaturvedi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Pentagon, which is handling the evacuation operations of the United States from the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, said on Wednesday (local time) that the Taliban have now consolidated control around the Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital. The US embassy in Kabul has also issued an alert to American citizens present outside the gates of the airport, asking them to leave immediately due to "security threats" outside.

"US citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, the East Gate, or the North Gate now should leave immediately," the security alert from the US embassy in Kabul said. "Because of security threats outside the gates of the Kabul airport, we are advising US citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid the airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a US govt representative to do so."

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Notably, the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul is the last remaining access point for the international community to reach out to people in the war-torn country, and also the only base fortified by US troops for the remaining large-scale evacuation operations. The Taliban, which swept across Afghanistan with a lightning-fast offensive in just two months, control most other regions.

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Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday that the Taliban have bolstered their own security at their checkpoints and have gotten involved in "crowd control".

"Every day is a different day, and yesterday we estimated that crowds were about half the size they had been the previous days," Kirby said at the press briefing. "We still haven't seen them rise to the level they were in the early days of this. But yes, part of the reason is, certainly that the Taliban have strengthened their measures of access and control around the field."

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Kirby said that the US is only responsible for managing the Kabul airport till August 31, the deadline set by President Joe Biden for completion of the evacuation operations from Afghanistan. The US embassy is currently running from the airport compound, he said, adding that the Taliban are in control of Afghanistan and will have to manage the airport on their own.

“I won't speak for their intentions one way or another going forward, but there's not going to be when the mission is over and when we are leaving the airport, the airport will not be the US' responsibility anymore," Kirby said. "How it gets managed going forward will be something that the Taliban...will have to manage on their own with -- and I assume with, you know, with the international community. But that won't be an American responsibility.”

(With inputs from agencies)

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