US presses on with evacuations despite fears of more attacks

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The United States pushed into the final days of the chaotic airlift from Afghanistan amid stricter security and warnings of further possible attacks on Friday, a day after a devastating suicide bombing attack on Kabul airport

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The United States pushed into the final days of the chaotic airlift from Afghanistan amid stricter security and warnings of further possible attacks on Friday, the day after a devastating suicide bombing attack on Kabul airport that killed well over 100 Afghans were killed and 13 US soldiers.

The US said there could be more bloodshed before President Joe Biden Tuesday’s rapidly approaching deadline to end evacuations and withdraw American forces. The next few days “will be our most dangerous time yet,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Thursday’s bombing – blamed for Afghanistan’s offshoot of the Islamic State Group, a deadly enemy of both the Taliban and the West – was one of the deadliest days in the two decades of the Afghan war.

Two officials said the number of Afghans killed rose to 169, one of the highest numbers in the country in a terrorist attack. The US said it was the deadliest day for American troops in Afghanistan since 2011.

The officials who reported the death toll in Afghanistan were not allowed to speak to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity. The death toll could change as authorities examined the dismembered remains.

The Pentagon also said Friday that there was only one suicide bomber – at the airport gate – and not two, as US officials originally said.

As the call to prayer echoed through Kabul on Friday, along with the roar of departing planes, the fearful crowds that crowded the airport in hopes of escaping Taliban rule appeared as big as ever, despite the bombing. Afghans, American citizens, and other foreigners were all aware that the window closes to board a flight.

The attack resulted in Jamshad going there that morning with his wife and three young children, an invitation in hand to a western country he did not want to identify.

“After the explosion, I decided to give it a try because I’m afraid there will be more attacks and I think I have to go now,” said Jamshad, who, like many Afghans, uses only one name.

The names of the Afghan victims surfaced and included a news agency founder and a number of impoverished Afghans who had gone to the airport in hopes of a better life.

British officials said two citizens of the country and another Briton’s child were also among the dead when the bomb exploded in the crowd.

The 13 U.S. soldiers who died included 10 Marines, one Navy sailor, and one Army soldier. The military has not identified her or given a seniority for the last victim.

The morning after the attack, the Taliban posted a pickup truck full of fighters and three captured Humvees and erected a barrier 500 meters from the airport that kept the crowds farther from the US troops at the airport gates than before.

US military officials said some gates were closed and other security measures were in place. They said there are tighter restrictions at the Taliban checkpoints and fewer people at the gates. The military said it has also asked the Taliban to block certain roads because of the possibility of suicide bombers in vehicles.

At the same time, the Pentagon said evacuees could get through with the correct IDs. Around 5,400 evacuees were waiting for their flights inside the airport gates.

In Washington, US commanders briefed Biden on the development of plans for a backlash against the Islamic State. On Thursday, the president warned those responsible for the carnage: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”

The president on Friday called the US efforts to evacuate Americans, Afghan allies and other people most threatened by the Taliban a “worthy mission.”

“And we will complete the mission,” he said.

The Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State is far more radical than the Taliban fighters, who took power with a lightning strike across the country less than two weeks ago. The two groups are enemies of the battlefield.

The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan two decades after fighting in a US-led invasion after the 11th attacks. Their return to power terrified many Afghans who fled the country’s American withdrawal.

More than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated via Kabul airport, according to the US, but thousands more are fighting to escape with one of the largest airlifts in history.

The White House said Friday morning that 8,500 evacuees have been flown aboard US military planes in the past 24 hours, along with about 4,000 people on coalition flights. That was about the same as the day before the bombing.

But the chances of helping those who wish to join the evacuation are rapidly dwindling. Other European allies and other nations ended their airlifts on Friday, in part to give the US time to complete its own operations and remove 5,000 of its troops by Tuesday.

The Taliban have announced that they will allow Afghans to leave the country on commercial flights after the US has withdrawn, but it is unclear which airlines would return to a militant-controlled airport.

Countless Afghans, especially those who have worked with the US and other Western countries, are now hiding for fear of retaliation despite the group offering a full amnesty.

The new rulers have tried in recent weeks to project an image of moderation – a sharp contrast to the harsh rule they imposed from 1996 to 2001 when they banned girls from education, banned television and music, and held public executions.

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Akhgar reported from Istanbul, Gannon from Islamabad and Anna from Nairobi, Kenya. Darlene Superville in Washington and Rahim Faiez in Turkey contributed along with other Associated Press writers around the world.

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More information on AP’s Afghanistan coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan

Sayed Ziarmal Hashemi, Tameem Akhgar, Kathy Gannon, and Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

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