The United States and allies urged people to move away from Kabul airport on Thursday due to the threat of a terror attack by Islamic State (IS) militants as Western troops hurry to evacuate as many people as possible before an August 31 deadline, according to Reuters.
Pressure to complete the evacuations of thousands of foreigners and Afghans who helped Western countries during the 20-year war against the Taliban has intensified, with all U.S. and allied troops due to leave the airport next week.
In an alert issued on Wednesday evening, the U.S. embassy in Kabul advised citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately, citing unspecified “security threats”.
In a similar advisory, Britain told people in the airport area to move away and its armed forces minister, James Heappey, said intelligence of a possible suicide bomb attack by IS militants had become “much firmer”.
“I can’t stress the desperation of the situation enough. The threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal. We wouldn’t be saying this if we weren’t genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target that is just unimaginable,” Heappey told BBC radio.
A Western diplomat in Kabul said areas outside the airport gates continued to be “incredibly crowded” despite the warnings.
The Taliban, whose fighters are guarding the perimeter outside the airport, are enemies of the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), after an old name for the region.
“Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport, they face a threat too from the Islamic State group,” said a Taliban official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The warnings came against a chaotic backdrop in the capital, Kabul, and its airport, where a massive airlift of foreign nationals and their families as well as some Afghans has been underway since the Taliban captured the city on August 15.
While Western troops in the airport worked feverishly to move the evacuation as fast as possible, thousands of people still thronged outside, trying to flee rather than stay in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Biden has ordered all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the month to comply with a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, despite European allies saying they needed more time to get people out.
In the 11 days since the Taliban swept into Kabul, the United States and its allies have mounted one of the biggest air evacuations in history, bringing out more than 88,000 people, including 19,000 on Tuesday. The U.S. military says planes are taking off the equivalent of every 39 minutes.