US forces maintain high threat airlift
US forces working under heightened security and threats of another attack continued in the final days of the US-led evacuation of Afghanistan after a devastating suicide bombing, and US officials said they had killed a member of the extremist group that the United States holds responsible. for that.
A U.S. drone strike early Saturday in eastern Afghanistan killed a member of the country’s Islamic State affiliate, the U.S. Central Command said. President Joe Biden blamed the suicide bombing on Thursday on this spin-off extremist group which is an enemy of both the West and the Afghan Taliban and is known for its particularly deadly attacks.
The death toll in Thursday’s suicide bombing rose to 169 Afghans, a number that could rise as authorities examine fragmented remains and 13 U.S. military personnel.
U.S. Central Command said U.S. officials believe the activist killed in Saturday’s drone strike was involved in planning strikes against the United States in Kabul, and that there was no other known victims.
The US retaliation comes amid a constant stream of grim warnings from the White House and the Pentagon that there may be more extremist attacks targeting US forces ahead of President Joe Biden’s looming deadline on Tuesday to end airlift and withdraw US personnel.
The next few days “will be our most dangerous time yet” in the evacuation, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki hours before the United States issues a security alert for four from the airport gates.
Thursday’s attack marked one of the deadliest attacks the country has seen. The United States said it was the deadliest day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since 2011.
As the call to prayer echoed across Kabul on Friday with the roar of departing planes, anxious crowds rushing to the airport in hopes of escaping Taliban rule emerged in greater numbers than ever, despite the scenes of victims lying against each other in the aftermath of the bombing. .
All over the world, newly arrived Afghan evacuees, many clinging babies and bare handles of personal belongings in plastic bags, descended from evacuation flights in the United States, Albania, Belgium and beyond . Afghan families in Kabul on Friday searched for loved ones among the bodies, placed along the sidewalk of a hospital for identification, of the bombing victims who died while arguing for a siege on US-run airlifts.
Afghans, American citizens and other foreigners were all well aware that the window closed to exit through the airlift.
Jamshad traveled to the airport on Friday with his wife and three young children. He held in his hands an invitation to a Western country he did not want to identify.
“After the explosion, I decided to give it a try. Because I’m afraid now that there will be more attacks, and I think now I have to leave, ”said Jamshad, who like many Afghans only uses one name.
The Pentagon said on Friday that there was only one suicide bomber – at the airport gate – and not two, as US officials initially said. A US official said the bomber was carrying a heavier-than-usual load of about 25 pounds of explosives, loaded with shrapnel.
The US official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss preliminary assessments of the attack. Officials who gave the Afghan death toll also spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Afghan victims ranged from a young hardworking journalist to an impoverished father, driven to the airport by the hope for a better life.
The American dead were 11 Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier. Many were young children when US forces first entered Afghanistan in 2001.
A, Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Mae’lee Grant Nikoui, sent a video to a family friend in the United States hours before his assassination, showing himself smiling and greeting Afghan children.
“Do you want to make a video together, buddy?” Nikoui asked the young boy, leaning over to be in the picture with him. “Alright, we’re heroes now, man.”
British officials said two of the country’s citizens and the child of another Briton were among those killed.
The morning after the attack, the Taliban used a van full of fighters and three captured Humvees to set up a barrier 500 yards from the airport, holding the crowds further away from US troops than before.
US military officials said some doors were closed and other security measures had been put in place. They said there were tighter restrictions at Taliban checkpoints and fewer people around the gates.
U.S. officials said evacuees with the correct credentials were still allowed through the gates. Inside, around 5,400 evacuees were awaiting flights.
US commanders had briefed Biden on Friday that plans were made to retaliate against Islamic State and fulfill the president’s vow to attackers to “hunt you down and get paid.”
Biden said the United States’ efforts to evacuate Americans, Afghan allies and others most threatened by the Taliban was a “dignified mission.”
“And we will complete the mission,” he said.
The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan two decades after they were ousted in a US-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks. Their return to power terrified many Afghans, who rushed to flee the country before the US withdrawal.
More than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated via Kabul airport, according to the United States, but thousands more are struggling to leave.
The White House said on Friday afternoon that U.S. military planes had carried 2,100 evacuees in the past 24 hours. Another 2,100 people left on other coalition flights.
That number was only a fraction of the 12,700 people carried by US military planes during a brief period when the airlift reached its maximum capacity.
France halted its own evacuation efforts and relied on a temporary French embassy at the airport, leaving Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban. The allies of the United States and others have ended or are ending their airlifts, in part to give the United States time to complete its own operations.
The Taliban have said they will allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the US withdrawal, but it is unclear which airlines will return to an airport controlled by the militants.
Gannon reported from Islamabad and Anna from Nairobi, Kenya. Darlene Superville in Washington and Rahim Faiez in Turkey and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed with other Associated Press editors around the world.