Taliban forces sealed off Kabul’s airport to most Afghans hoping for evacuation and most NATO nations flew out their troops after two decades in Afghanistan, winding down a frantic airlift that Western leaders acknowledged was still leaving many of their citizens and local allies behind. This is reported by AP.
The United States, which says the round-the-clock flights have evacuated more than 100,000 people since the Taliban claimed Kabul on Aug. 15, was keeping up airlifts ahead of President Joe Biden’s deadline for withdrawal.
Britain also 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.”
Taliban forces were holding some positions within the airport, ready to peacefully take control as American forces fly out, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. The Pentagon stressed Friday that the Taliban, who now run Afghanistan, were not in control of any operations at the airport.
Outside the airport, Taliban leaders deployed extra forces to prevent large crowds from gathering after a devastating suicide attack two days earlier,
New layers of checkpoints sprang up on roads leading to the airport, some manned by uniformed Taliban fighters with Humvees and night-vision goggles captured from Afghan security forces. Areas where large crowds had gathered over the past two weeks in the hopes of fleeing the country were largely empty.
A suicide attack Thursday by an Islamic State group affiliate killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, and there were concerns that the group, which is far more radical than the Taliban, could strike again. The U.S. military said it killed an IS militant early Saturday in a drone strike, after U.S. President Joe Biden promised swift retaliation.