The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH)
Taliban guard airport, most NATO troops leave
Taliban forces sealed off Kabul’s airport to most Afghans as NATO nations wrap up evacuation flights.
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN >> Taliban forces sealed off Kabul’s airport on Saturday to most Afghans hoping for evacuation, as the U.S. and its allies wound down a chaotic airlift that will end their troops’ two decades in Afghanistan.
Western leaders acknowledged that their withdrawal would mean leaving behind some of their citizens and many locals who helped them over the years, and they vowed to try to continue working with the Taliban to allow local allies to leave after President Joe Biden’s Tuesday’s deadline to withdraw from the country.
Although most of its allies had finished their evacuation flights, the U.S. planned to keep its round-the-clock flights going until the deadline, saying 113,500 people had been evacuated since Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban claimed Kabul. Biden warned Saturday that commanders had told him another attack was “highly likely in the next 2436 hours.”
Britain was carrying out its final evacuation flights Saturday, though Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to “shift heaven and earth” to get more of those at risk from the Taliban to Britain by other means.
Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, said in a video from Kabul airport and posted on Twitter that it was “time to close this phase of the operation now.”
“But we haven’t forgotten the people who still need to leave,” he said. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to help them. Nor have we forgotten the brave, decent people of Afghanistan. They deserve to live in peace and security.”
As the flow of planes leaving Kabul slowed, others arrived in locales around the world carrying Afghans who managed to secure places on the last evacuation flights, including in the Washington area, Philadelphia, Madrid, Birmingham, England, among others. Some were relieved and looking forward to starting their new lives far from the Taliban, but others were bitter about having to flee.
In Spain, evacuee Shabeer Ahmadi, a 29-year-old journalist targeted by the Taliban, said the United States had doomed the work he and others had put into making Afghanistan a better place by allowing the insurgent group to reclaim power.
“They abandoned the new generation of Afghanistan,” Ahmadi said.
An evacuation flight to Britain landed with an extra passenger on Saturday after the cabin crew delivered a baby girl midair, Turkish media reported. The parents named her Havva, or Eve, and she was at least the fourth baby known to have been born to Afghan mothers who went into labor on evacuation flights.
Meanwhile, families of Afghans killed in Thursday’s suicide bombing at the airport by an Islamic State group affiliate continued burying their dead — at least 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members died in the attack. Among those killed was Belal Azfali, a 36-year-old contractor for a U.S.-funded project who had gone to the airport on his own, without his wife. His remains were so disfigured that he could only be identified when someone picked up the family’s repeated calls to the cellphone he had with him, relatives said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed Saturday that the group’s forces were holding some positions within the airport and were ready to peacefully take control of it as American forces flew out. But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby denied the claim.