ISLAMABAD: The United States said it destroyed an explosive-laden vehicle with an air strike in Kabul Sunday, hours after President Joe Biden warned of another terror attack in the capital as a massive airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans entered its last days.
A Taliban spokesman confirmed the incident, saying a car bomb destined for the airport had been destroyed -- and that a possible second strike had hit a nearby house. The US said it had only struck the vehicle, but added that secondary blasts indicated "a substantial amount of explosive material".
According to Geo News, the blast occurred following a drone strike in the Khawja Bughra area, and killed seven — including four children, a husband and wife, and one other person. It is not clear if they all belonged to the same family. One person injured in the attack was rushed to a medical facility.
"A car parked inside a house in which children and adults were sitting was hit, resulting in the casualties," area residents told Geo News. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that a US airstrike "targeted a suicide bomber in a vehicle who wanted to strike Kabul airport", according to international media.
The strike comes after a suicide bomber from the Islamic State group on Thursday targeted US troops stopping huge crowds of people from entering Kabul’s airport, from where about 114,000 people have been evacuated since August 15 when the Taliban swept back into power. More than 100 people died in the attack, including 13 US service personnel, slowing down the airlift ahead of Biden’s deadline for evacuations to end by Tuesday.
The operation is winding down despite Western powers saying thousands may be left behind. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said some 300 Americans still in Afghanistan were seeking to leave the country. "They are not going to be stuck," he told ABC, adding the US had "a mechanism to get them out".
"The situation on the ground continues to be extremely dangerous, and the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high," Biden said. "Our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours."
The US embassy in Kabul later released a warning of credible threats at specific areas of the airport, including access gates. On the other hand, spokesman for the Taliban political office Suhail Shaheen said that Washington will have no right to attack the country after tomorrow, August 31.
Responding to a question if the US had carried out the drone strike with the Taliban’s consent, Suhail Shaheen said that the Taliban-led government will stop any such attack in Afghanistan after August 31. He said this while talking during Geo News programme "Naya Pakistan".
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan poured cold water over a plan in which Turkey operates Kabul airport and the Taliban provide security, adding Ankara would be in a tough position if another attack occurs.
Turkey had long planned to help secure and run the Afghan capital´s airport, but appeared to drop the idea when it started Wednesday to withdraw its approximately 500 non-combat troops from Afghanistan.
Erdogan on Friday said Turkey had held its first talks with the Taliban in Kabul, adding that Ankara was still assessing their offer for Turkey to run the airport´s logistics.
"What does the Taliban say with regard to the airport issue? They say ‘give us the security but you operate it’," Erdogan said in comments published by the official Anadolu news agency and other media outlets.
"How come we hand you over the security?" Erdogan added. “Let´s say you took over the security but how would we explain to the world if another bloodbath takes place there? It’s not an easy job.”
Turkey has completed its evacuation operation while moving its embassy from the airport back to its original compound, Erdogan said. "We are planning right now to maintain our diplomatic presence," he said but added plans were constantly being updated depending on the security situation.
"We keep ready all our necessary alternative plans. Our priority is the safety of our personnel." Western allies that helped with the airlift have mostly already ended their flights, with some voicing despair at not being able to fly out everyone at risk.
The head of Britain's armed forces, General Sir Nick Carter, told the BBC it was "heartbreaking" that "we haven't been able to bring everybody out". Two Afghan athletes were able to leave last weekend and spent a week in France before a "major global operation" took them to Japan for the Tokyo Paralympics.
There was an emotional welcome for Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli at the athletes´ village on Saturday night. "There were lots of tears from everyone in the room," said International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence.
French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, said talks had begun with the Taliban to "protect and repatriate" at-risk Afghan nationals beyond Tuesday. France and Britain will today (Monday) urge the United Nations to work for the creation of a "safe zone" in Kabul to protect humanitarian operations, he said.
The UN said it was bracing for a "worst-case scenario" of up to half a million more refugees from Afghanistan by the end of 2021.
At the airport, gone are the crowds of thousands mobbing the perimeter, hoping to be let through and allowed onto a plane. The Taliban have now sealed off roads leading to the facility and are only letting sanctioned buses pass.
In order to facilitate the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has decided to allow UN planes to use Pakistani runways to take off for Afghanistan.
In order to dispatch food and essential items to Kabul, the tarmac of Pakistani airports will be used, said the CAA. Against this facility, the CAA will charge the fee as per its schedule.
The notification said a fixed-wing two-manned aircraft will be used for aid staple and will take off from Islamabad airport en route to Kabul. Separately, an M18 helicopter will carry six men and food for the Kabul landing. The UN's WFO reached out to Pakistani CAA for aid in this regard, the aviation authority said.
On Sunday, Joe Biden met in solemn privacy with the families of the 13 US troops killed in the suicide attack near the Kabul airport. First lady Jill Biden joined the president at Dover Air Force Base to grieve with loved ones as the “dignified transfer” of remains unfolded, a military ritual for those killed in foreign combat.
The dead ranged in age from 20 to 31, and came from California and Massachusetts and states in between. They include a 20-year-old Marine from Wyoming who had been expecting his first child in three weeks and a 22-year-old Navy corpsman who in his last FaceTime conversation with his mother assured her that he would stay safe because “my guys got me.”
Five were just 20, born not long before the attacks of Sept 11, 2001.
“The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others,” Biden said in a statement Saturday. “Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far.” Biden held his hand over his heart and appeared to shut his eyes in prayer as each flag-draped transfer case was taken off a military aircraft and put on an awaiting vehicle.
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