United States forces helping to evacuate Afghans desperate to flee Taliban rule were on alert for more attacks after an ISIL-affiliated suicide bombing on Thursday that killed at least 175 people Taliban, sources revealed. Thirteen US service members died in the attack outside Kabul airport.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that the US believed there are still “specific, credible” threats against the airport.
Pentagon officials also said they believe the attack outside Kabul airport was a result of one explosion, not two as previously reported.
“We do not believe that there was a second explosion at or near the Baron hotel, that it was one suicide bomber,” US Army Major General William Taylor told reporters at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
Thursday’s attack was claimed by ISIL (ISIS) offshoot in Afghanistan – the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K).
US President Joe Biden pledged to retaliate against the attack in Kabul, confirming that the bombings were carried out by ISKP. “We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command,” he said.
The US says it has evacuated approximately 4,200 people in 12 hours on Friday, following the deadly suicide attack near the airport in Kabul on Thursday.
“Since August 14, the US has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 109,200 people,” the White House said in a statement. “Since the end of July, we have re-located approximately 114,800 people.”
France ends its evacuation operation
France has ended its evacuation operation in Kabul, government ministers announced late on Friday, citing the “security conditions” and looming withdrawal of US troops by the end of the month.
“In exceptionally difficult circumstances, France evacuated nearly 3,000 people,” a joint statement by Defence Minister Florence Parly and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
The ministers added that Paris will continue to help the people of Afghanistan “by all possible means”. They said they will work with Taliban officials to ensure that departures from the country are not impeded after August 31.
US Marine officer who posted viral video critical of withdrawal is relieved of duty
US Marine Lt Colonel Stuart Scheller, who called out senior Pentagon leaders following the fatal suicide bomb attack at Kabul airport, has been relieved of duty.
“To all my friends across the social networks, I have been relieved for cause based on a lack of trust and confidence,” Scheller, a 17-year veteran, wrote on his Facebook page on Friday.
A four-minute video posted to Facebook by Scheller on Thursday had called for “accountability” among senior Marine Corps officers for what he called a botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The video was shared more than 21,000 times by other users, according to the social media platform.
“People are upset because their senior leaders let them down. And none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying ‘we messed this up’,” Scheller said in the video.
Taliban say ready to take over Kabul airport, Pentagon claims still in control of military section
Taliban officials say forces inside Kabul airport are ready to take over, but Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said US forces still control the military section of the site.
One senior commander said Taliban forces had taken over most of the airport, “just not a small part where the Americans still are”, Reuters news agency said.
A second official said the forces were ready to take full control, adding: “It’s just a matter of some more time.”