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Last-ditch evacuations resume as toll from deadly Kabul blasts crosses 100

The US says further attempted attacks are expected ahead of the Tuesday deadline for foreign troops to leave, ending America’s longest war.

Afghans carry the dead body of an Afghan at a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 27, 2021. (Wali Sabawoon) / AP)

Evacuation flights from Afghanistan have resumed with new urgency a day after two suicide bombings targeted the thousands of desperate people fleeing the Taliban takeover and killed more than 100.

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The US says further attempted attacks are expected ahead of the Tuesday deadline for foreign troops to leave, ending America’s longest war.

As the call to prayer echoed through Kabul on Friday with the whine of departing planes, the anxious crowd outside the airport was as large as ever.

In one location, dozens of Taliban members with heavy weapons about 500 metres from the airport were preventing anyone from venturing forward.

On Friday morning, some evacuation flights resumed with queues of people seen lining up on the tarmac but there were no more crowds near the sites of the blasts, according to AFP reporters.

Thursday night’s bombings near Kabul’s international airport killed at least 170 Afghans and 13 US troops, Afghan and US officials said, in the deadliest day for US forces in Afghanistan since August 2011.

An official said Friday that the true toll could be higher because other people may have taken bodies away from the scene, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

In an emotional speech, President Joe Biden blamed the Daesh group’s Afghanistan affiliate, far more radical than the Taliban who seized power less than two weeks ago.

“We will rescue the Americans; we will get our Afghan allies out, and our mission will go on,” Biden said. But despite intense pressure to extend Tuesday’s deadline, he has cited the threat of terrorist attacks as a reason to keep to his plan.

US withdrawal from Afghanistan

The Taliban, back in control of Afghanistan two decades after they were ousted in a US-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, insist on the deadline.

The Trump administration in February 2020 struck an agreement with the Taliban that called for it to halt attacks on Americans in exchange for the removal of all US troops and contractors by May; Biden announced in April he would have them out by September.

While the US on Thursday said more than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated from Kabul, as many as 1,000 Americans and tens of thousands more Afghans are struggling to leave in one of history’s largest airlifts.

General Frank McKenzie, the US Central Command chief overseeing the evacuation, on Thursday said about 5,000 people were awaiting flights on the airfield.

Yet more were arriving.

The Taliban deployed extra forces around the airport to prevent large crowds from gathering after Thursday’s devastating suicide attack.

New layers of checkpoints sprang up on roads leading to the airport, some manned by uniformed Taliban fighters with Humvees and night-vision goggles captured from Afghan security forces. Areas where large crowds of people have gathered over the past two weeks in hopes of fleeing the country following the Taliban takeover were largely empty.

More wanting to flee post-Kabul blast

Thursday’s attacks led Jamshad, who gave just his one name, to come early Friday with his wife and three small children, clutching an invitation to a Western country he didn’t want to name.

This was his first attempt to leave, he said: “After the explosion I decided I would try because I am afraid now there will be more attacks and I think now I have to leave.”

“Believe me, I think that an explosion will happen any second or minute, God is my witness, but we have lots of challenges in our lives, that is why we take the risk to come here and we overcome fear,” said Ahmadullah Herawi, also seeking to flee.

The scenes at the airport, with people standing knee-deep in sewage and families thrusting documents and even young children toward US troops behind razor wire, have horrified many around the world as far-flung efforts continue to help people escape.

5,000 of its troops out by Tuesday

But those chances are fading fast for many.

Some US allies have said they are ending evacuation efforts, in part to give the US time to wrap up its evacuation work before getting 5,000 of its troops out by Tuesday.

British troops will end their evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan on Saturday, armed forces chief General Nick Carter said.

“We’re reaching the end of the evacuation, which will take place during the course of today. And then it will be necessary to bring our troops out on the remaining aircraft,” he told the BBC.

“We haven’t been able to bring everyone out, and that has been heart-breaking. And there have been some very challenging judgements that have had to be made on the ground.”

The Spanish government said it ended its evacuation operation as did Sweden.

And the French European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, said on French radio Europe 1 that France will end its evacuation operation “soon” but may seek to extend it until after Friday night.

Untold thousands of Afghans, especially ones who had worked with the US and other Western countries, are now in hiding from the Taliban, fearing retaliation despite the group’s offer of full amnesty.

The group, once defined as a militant operation, has claimed it has become more moderate since its harsh rule from 1996 to 2001 when it largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music and held public executions.

But Afghans in Kabul and elsewhere have reported that some Taliban members are barring girls from attending school, women from working and are going door to door in search of people who had worked with Western forces.

No one knows how effective the Taliban will be at combating Daesh, who have links to the group’s more well-known affiliate in Syria and Iraq and have carried out a series of brutal attacks in Afghanistan.

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