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Nations warn of terror threat at Kabul airport

Nearly 90,000 Afghans and foreigners have fled Afghanistan via the US-led airlift.

Evacuation at Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Evacuation at Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

SEVERAL NATIONS HAVE warned their citizens to immediately leave the surrounds of Kabul airport over a terrorist threat, as thousands of people try to reach a dwindling number of evacuation flights.

Nearly 90,000 Afghans and foreigners have fled Afghanistan via the US-led airlift since the Taliban took control of the country on 15 August.

Huge crowds are gathered in and around the airport, becoming increasingly desperate as some foreign nations cease flights ahead of Tuesday’s deadline by President Joe Biden to end the evacuations and withdraw the US troops overseeing it.

One reason for the hard deadline cited by Biden and his aides this week was an “acute” terrorist threat from the regional chapter of the Islamic State group.

Members of Ireland’s elite Army Ranger Wing have been sent to Kabul to assist in the evacuation of the last remaining Irish citizens there. 

A group of soldiers, along with at least two high-ranking officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, have travelled to Afghanistan.

The Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said this team of diplomats and army rangers are “safe, busy & doing fantastic work with partners”. 

“We remain in close contact with them to make decisions on exit,” the minister said on Twitter

He said the department is in continuing contact with the remaining Irish citizens and their families in Afghanistan.

As of Tuesday, ten Irish citizens had been evacuated from Afghanistan with 36 citizens and family members still in the country. 

Asked this morning for an updated figure, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “The Emergency Consular Assistance Team (ECAT) is a short duration deployment focused primarily on providing consular support at the airport to Irish citizens and their dependants.

“Given the complex security environment, no further operational details will be released.”

A spokesperson for the Defence Forces declined to comment on the ongoing operational deployment. 

The US government and its allies raised the alarm further today in Kabul with a series of coordinated and specific advisories warnings for their citizens to avoid the airport.

“Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” said the US State Department, citing unspecified “security threats”.

Australia’s department of foreign affairs said there was an “ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack”.

“Do not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport. If you’re in the area of the airport, move to a safe location and await further advice.”

London issued a similar warning, adding “if you can leave Afghanistan safely by other means, you should do so immediately”.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace held a briefing with MPs yesterday, where he is reported to have said it would be a “better option” for those who still need to leave the country to travel across the Afghanistan border and try to enter a third country.

Fears

Many Afghans fear a repeat of the Taliban’s brutal interpretation of Sharia law, as well as violent retribution for working with foreign militaries, Western missions or the previous US-backed government.

There are particular concerns for women, who were largely banned from education and employment and could only leave the house with a male chaperone during the group’s 1996-2001 rule.

The crowds at the airport have led to chaos throughout the airlift operations, with thousands of US troops trying to maintain a secure perimeter for evacuation flights.

Some of the Afghans massed outside the airport have foreign passports, visas or eligibility to travel, but most do not.

At least eight people have died in the chaos.

Despite the harrowing scenes, the Taliban have ruled out any extension to next Tuesday’s deadline to pull out foreign troops, describing it as “a red line”.

“They have planes, they have the airport, they should get their citizens and contractors out of here,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

Turkey, which had more than 500 non-combat troops stationed in Afghanistan, said yesterday it had started pulling out its forces.

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Belgium said yesterday it was ending evacuations after its military planes airlifted around 1,100 people – including Europeans and Afghans – in recent days.

France has said it will end its flights today.

The Pentagon, which is managing all Kabul airport operations, has said it has to wind down evacuations several days before 31 August.

This is to allow time for the US military to remove its own 6,000-plus troops, plus hundreds of US officials and Afghan security forces, as well as equipment.

Additional reporting by Orla Dwyer. 

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