US expects more terror
KABUL: Suicide bomb threats hung over the final phase of the US military’s airlift operation from Kabul on Sunday, with President Joe Biden warning another attack was likely before evacuations end.
More than 112,000 people have fled Afghanistan via the massive US-led airlift since the Taliban movement swept back into power a fortnight ago, and the operation is winding down despite Western powers saying thousands may be left behind.
What had already been a chaotic and desperate evacuation turned bloody on Thursday when a suicide bomber from the local chapter of the ISIS group targeted US troops stopping huge crowds of people from entering the airport.
More than 100 people died in the attack, including 13 US service personnel, slowing down the airlifts ahead of Mr Biden’s deadline for evacuations to end by Tuesday.
The Pentagon said on Saturday retaliation drone strikes had killed two “highlevel” ISIS jihadists in eastern Afghanistan, but Mr Biden warned of more attacks from the group.
“The situation on the ground continues to be extremely dangerous, and the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high,” Mr Biden said.
“Our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours.” The US embassy in Kabul later released an alert warning of credible threats at specific areas of the airport, including access gates.
In recent years, ISIS’ Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in those countries.
They have massacred civilians at mosques, public squares, schools and even hospitals.
While both ISIS and the Taliban are hard line Sunni Islamists, they are bitter foes – with each claiming to be the true flag-bearers of jihad.
The ISIS attack has forced the US military and the Taliban into a form of co-operation to ensure security at the airport that was unthinkable a fortnight ago.
On Saturday, Taliban fighters escorted a steady stream of Afghans from buses to the main passenger terminal, handing them over to US troops for evacuation.
The troops were seen throughout the civilian side of the airport grounds and annex buildings, while US Marines peered at them from the passenger terminal roof.
After a 20-year war, the foes were within open sight of each other, separated by just 30m.
Also in view of the US troops were the Taliban’s “Badri” special forces in American Humvees gifted to the now-vanquished Afghan army.
Western allies that helped with the airlift have mostly already ended their flights, with some voicing despair at not being able to evacuate everyone at risk.