Afghanistan: Western countries issue terror threat warning for Kabul airport

Britain, the United States and Australia have issued urgent warnings telling their nationals to move away from Kabul airport as quickly as possible due to “terrorist” threats. It comes as thousands of people mass there in the hope of fleeing the country that fell to the Taliban.

The three countries published very specific and almost identical warnings simultaneously overnight from Wednesday to Thursday.

“There is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack. Do not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport. If you are in the area of the airport, move away to a safe location and await further advice,” reads the new UK government advice.

On Thursday Australia urged its citizens in Afghanistan not to travel to Kabul’s airport, citing a “very high threat of a terrorist attack”.

The US Embassy in Kabul warned Americans away from three specific airport gates over unspecified “security threats outside the gates”. “US citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” Washington’s statement says.

The US defence department said on Wednesday it estimated that more than 10,000 people were at Kabul airport trying to leave Afghanistan.

During a virtual summit of G7 leaders on Tuesday, President Biden cited a serious risk of attack by an offshoot of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) jihadist group at the airport, as he rejected calls to extend the US military presence beyond August 31.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the administration believes about 1,500 American citizens remain in Afghanistan, 12 days into a massive US military airlift. He told a news conference on Wednesday that another 4,500 Americans have been evacuated.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country had helped evacuate around 4,000 people from the airport since Wednesday last week including 1,200 overnight, triple the number he said he thought was possible last week.

“It remains a highly dangerous environment,” Morrison added.

Earlier, the US secretary of state said the Taliban had given assurances that the Taliban had agreed to allow Americans and Afghans considered at risk to leave the country after the US deadline of August 31.

He did not specify how their departure would be organised, however, given that US forces are due to leave the country by the end of the month.

Germany also said on Wednesday that it had received similar assurances from the Taliban. The country’s envoy to Afghanistan Markus Potzel said they came from the deputy head of the Taliban political bureau in Qatar, Sher Abbas Stanekzai.

“Director Stanekzai assured me that Afghans with legal documents will continue to have the opportunity to travel on commercial flights after 31 August,” Potzel said on Twitter.

But Victoria Fontan, a French university professor evacuated from Kabul, told Euronews that her group of foreigners had been put under “house arrest” by the Taliban who had demanded money and other belongings in return for access to the airport. What was supposed to be safe passage was in practice “extortion”, she added.

France has warned that its airlift will continue until Friday evening. Prime Minister Jean Castex told RTL radio on Thursday that no evacuations will be possible beyond that point. Earlier a government spokesperson said its evacuation operation in Kabul would continue for “as long as possible” ahead of the August 31 deadline.

Belgium announced that the evacuations of its nationals and the Afghans it was protecting had ceased on Wednesday evening.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo tweeted that the decision was taken in agreement with European partners and was due to “the evolution of the situation in Afghanistan”. Five flights operated between Kabul and the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Wednesday, he said.

Poland and Hungary have also said that their evacuation operations will soon cease. Several European countries including Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Russia each said they managed to fly hundreds more people out of Afghanistan or the region on Wednesday.

Germany’s top military commander has said 21 German citizens were picked up during an overnight helicopter mission in Afghanistan that was flown by US forces, with German forces picking up the evacuees.

Turkey, meanwhile, has announced the withdrawal of its soldiers who were guarding Kabul airport alongside the US military, abandoning its proposal to continue to provide security at Kabul airport after the withdrawal of US forces.

The Taliban has said Western evacuation operations must end by August 31, and any delay would be a “violation”. A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, had previously accused the United States and its allies of emptying the country of its most qualified people by evacuating the Afghans who worked with them.

Many of them, often urban and educated, fear reprisals — and that the Islamists will establish the same type of fundamentalist and brutal regime as they did when in power between 1996 and 2001.

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