• Wednesday, Dec 07, 2022
  • Last Update : 09:54 am

US starts troop withdrawal from Kabul; retaliates for airport blast

  • Published at 04:57 pm August 28th, 2021
US troops Kabul Afghanistan
US Marines at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 26, 2021 Reuters

About 111,000 people evacuated

US troops have begun their withdrawal from Kabul airport, the Pentagon said on Saturday, following a two-week scramble by Washington and its allies to fly out their nationals and Afghans at risk of reprisals under Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers.

As it neared the end of a 20-year military involvement in the country, the United States said it had killed two Islamic State militants planning attacks in Afghanistan following a deadly bombing outside the airport on Thursday.

American officials also warned of a high risk of further attacks by the group - enemies of both the West and the Taliban - as it winds up its mission. 

The United States and allied foreign forces are seeking to withdraw by a Tuesday deadline set by President Joe Biden.

Also Read: Where is the Taliban supremeo?

The airport blast, which killed scores of people including 13 US troops, highlighted the peril of the final stages of the mission. Biden promised on Thursday that Washington would go after the perpetrators.

An overnight US drone attack killed two Islamic State planners and wounded another in Nangarhar province, US Army Major General William Taylor said, referring to an eastern area that borders Pakistan.

Although they are no friends of Islamic State, the Taliban condemned the US strike.

"The Americans should have informed us (Taliban) before conducting the air strike, it was a clear attack on Afghan territory," a Taliban spokesman told Reuters.

Taliban fighters walk at the main entrance gate of Kabul airport in Kabul on August 28, 2021, following the Taliban stunning military takeover of Afghanistan /AFP

As of Saturday, there were fewer than 4,000 US troops at Kabul airport, the official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters, down from 5,800 at the peak of the evacuation mission.

Thursday's suicide blast, claimed by, the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, caused a bloodbath outside the gates of the airport - where thousands of Afghans have gathered to try to get a flight out since the Taliban returned to power when they took control of Kabul on August 15.

Also Read: Future of Kabul airport subject of intense negotiations

On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that discussions were underway with the Taliban through Qatar to "protect and repatriate" Afghans at risk since this month's takeover by the group.

Dangerous mission

The White House said the next few days were likely to be the most dangerous of the evacuation operation. The United States and allies have taken about 111,900 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks, the Pentagon has said.

US officials said another attack against the Kabul airport was a near certainty, and there were fears that it could be more destructive than Thursday’s attack. The US Embassy in Kabul warned Americans to avoid the airport.

US media, including the New York Times, cited health officials saying Thursday's blast had killed up to 170 people.

Most of the more than 20 allied countries involved in airlifting their citizens and Afghans out of Kabul said they had completed by Friday.

The last British evacuating civilians from Afghanistan left Kabul on Saturday, bringing to an end an operation that has airlifted almost 15,000 Afghan and British citizens in the two weeks since the Taliban took control.

Taliban Badri fighters, a ‘special forces’ unit, stand guard as Afghans, hoping to leave Afghanistan, walk through the main entrance gate of Kabul airport in Kabul on August 28, 2021 /AFP

Reaper drone

A US official said a reaper drone flown from the Middle East struck an Islamic State militant who was planning attacks and was in a car with an associate.

Residents of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, said they had heard several explosions from an air strike around midnight, though it was not clear they were caused by a US drone.

In Jalalabad, community elder Malik Adib said three people were killed and four were wounded in the air strike, adding that he had been summoned by the Taliban investigating the incident.

"Women and children are among the victims,” said Adib, though he did not have information about their identity.

The US military statement said: "We know of no civilian casualties."

While Kabul's airport has been in chaos, the rest of the city has been generally calm. The Taliban have told residents to hand over government equipment including weapons and vehicles within a week, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Some US officials said the airport attack could have been avoided in the rushed operation to withdraw troops and get out people at risk.

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