President Joe Biden has set a deadline of Tuesday (today) to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan, drawing to a close his nation’s longest military conflict, which began in retaliation for the September 11 attacks.
The return of the Taliban movement, which was toppled in 2001 but took back power a fortnight ago, triggered an exodus of terrified people aboard US-led evacuation flights.
|Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, was a maintenance technician with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. She was one of the 13 U.S. service members killed in last Thursday’s suicide bombing at the Kabul airport by an Islamic State group affiliate. At least 169 Afghans also died in the attack. A week before she was killed, Sgt. Nicole Gee cradled a baby in her arms at the Kabul airport. She posted the photo on Instagram and wrote, ‘I love my job.’ (U.S. Department of Defense Photo)|
Those flights, which took more than 114,000 people out of Kabul airport, will officially end on Tuesday when the last of the thousands of American troops pull out.
But US forces are now focused chiefly on flying themselves and American diplomats out safely.
The Islamic State group, rivals of the Taliban, pose the biggest threat to the withdrawal after carrying out a suicide bomb attack at the airport late last week that claimed more than 100 lives, including those of 13 US troops.
Biden had warned more attacks were highly likely and the United States said it carried out an air strike on Sunday night in Kabul on an explosives-laden vehicle.
That was followed on Monday morning by the sound of rockets flying across Kabul, according to journalists in the city. The sound of the airport’s missile defence system could be heard by local residents, who also reported shrapnel falling into the street — suggesting at least one rocket had been intercepted.
The IS threat has forced the US military and the Taliban to co-operate in ensuring security at the airport in a way unthinkable just weeks ago.
On Saturday, Taliban fighters escorted a steady stream of Afghans from buses to the main passenger terminal, handing them over to US forces for evacuation. On Sunday, the Taliban revealed their supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was in southern Afghanistan and planning to make a public appearance.
“He is present in Kandahar. He has been living there from the very beginning,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
Meanwhile, the Taliban has assured 100 countries that it will continue to allow foreigners and Afghans with foreign travel papers to leave the country “in a safe and orderly manner,” even after the US troop withdrawal ends Tuesday, the countries said in a statement Sunday. The 100-nation group includes the United States, Britain, France and Germany.
“We are all committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan,” added the statement, which was also signed by the European Union and NATO. China and Russia were not among the signatories to the document.
Meanwhile, France and Britain have urged the United Nations to work for the creation of a “safe zone” in the Afghan capital Kabul to protect humanitarian operations, French President Emmanuel Macron said.
– THE HINDUSTAN TIMES, INDIA TODAY
|Taliban fighters near the main entrance gate of the Kabul airport on Sunday.|