Evacuation flights from Afghanistan began again on Friday, only a day after two suicide bombings targeted the thousands of people fleeing the Taliban takeover.
Concerns over further attacks have led a number of countries, including Denmark, Germany, the UK and Sweden, to announce they would be cutting their evacuation schedule short. The US on Friday issued a warning that more attacks are expected before all its troops leave by the deadline of August 31.
Thursday’s bombings killed at least 90 Afghans and 13 US troops, and injured more than 150 Afghans, US officials said. The death toll is expected to keep rising with some Afghan officials saying it could rise to 115
In an emotional speech on Thursday night, US President Joe Biden blamed the ISIS’s Afghanistan affiliate, considered far more radical than the Taliban militants who seized power less than two weeks ago in a lightning blitz across the country.
“We will rescue the Americans; we will get our Afghan allies out and our mission will go on,” Mr Biden said. But despite intense pressure to extend Tuesday’s deadline, he cited the threat of terrorist attacks as a reason to keep to his plan – to which the Taliban say he must stick.
As of Thursday, the US said more than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated from Kabul, but as many as 1,000 Americans and tens of thousands more Afghans are struggling to leave in one of history’s largest airlifts. Gen Frank McKenzie, the US Central Command chief overseeing the evacuation, said about 5,000 people were still awaiting flights at the airfield on Thursday.
Many US allies on Friday announced they would be ceasing evacuation efforts due to the growing danger of another attack. The UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News on Friday that Britain’s air operation would end within hours saying there were only “eight or nine” flights left.
Sweden followed suit saying it had ended taking its citizens out of Kabul, after flying more than 1,100 people to Sweden after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
“The incredibly difficult and risky conditions meant we were not able to evacuate more Swedes and local employees,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said.
The Spanish government said it has ended its rescue flights, while the French European Affairs Minister, Clement Beaune, told Europe 1 radio that the country would end its operation “soon” but may seek to extend it beyond Friday night.
The German military ended the airlift from Kabul airport late on Thursday after flying 5,347 people, including more than 4,100 Afghans, to safety. The last flight out of Kabul landed in Frankfurt on Friday.
The government in Berlin said about 300 German citizens remained in Afghanistan. In addition, Berlin has identified 10,000 Afghans in need of protection who are entitled to come to Germany, including former local staff, journalists and human rights activists, a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Erdogan announced that Turkey had held its first talks with the Taliban. Mr Erdogan said the Taliban had asked Turkey to operate the Kabul airport but given the security threat Ankara said no agreement had been made.