UK and US nationals in Afghanistan warned away from Kabul airport amid ‘high threat of terrorist attack’

Thousands crowded at airfield in hope of escaping Taliban but could be target for Isis militants

Alastair Jamieson,Andrew Buncombe
Thursday 26 August 2021 01:33
Afghans gather near Kabul airport to flee Taliban

Britain and the United States have issued a new alert to their citizens - warning them to stay away from Kabul airport due to an “ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack”.

Amid mounting concern that people either at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, or else trying to make their way there, could be targeted by Isis extremists, urgent warnings were made by both capitals.

Hundreds are still awaiting airlift by Britain’s RAF, but they are now being told to head for the border with Pakistan or Iran instead.

“The security situation in Afghanistan remains volatile,” Britain’s foreign office said in an update late on Wednesday.

“Do not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport. If you are in the area of the airport, move away to a safe location and await further advice.”

Meanwhile, the US also warned its citizens to stay away from certain gates at the airport, a degree of specificity that suggested the apparent threat contained precise information.

The US Embassy in Kabul advised US citizens at a number of gates at the airport to “leave immediately”, noting “security threats outside the gates.” Earlier, CNN reported of “very specific threat stream” from Isis-K against crowds.

Isis-K, a militant group linked to the fighters who seized a huge stretch of territory in Iraq and Syria until its defeat in 2019, has been gaining ground in Afghanistan in recent months, even though it is a sworn enemy of both the US and the Taliban.

Crowds have flocked to the airport over the last 12 days, since evacuation efforts began, in order to flee Afghanistan.

Chaotic scenes have been reported as troops attempted to remove as many eligible people as possible before an August 31 deadline by which military personnel must leave the country.

In Washington DC on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said around 82,000 people had been flown out of Kabul since August 15 when the Taliban seized power. He said an estimated 1,500 Americans remained.

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“Over the past 24 hours we have been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely,” he said at a press conference.

“For the remaining roughly 1,000 contacts we had, who may be Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan, we are aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day, through multiple channels of communication – phone, email, text message – to determine whether they still want to leave and to get the most up to date information and instructions to them for how to do so.”

In London, the FCDO’s updated advice said there had been allegations “of people being mistreated on their way to Kabul International Airport”.

And it warned that travelling by road was “extremely dangerous”.

It comes as it was reported that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told MPs in a call on Wednesday that Afghans wanting to flee the country would be better off heading for the border and trying to make their way to a third country rather than travel to Kabul airport.

Nearly 2,000 Afghan interpreters and other staff who worked for Britain still need to be evacuated from Afghanistan.

They have been assessed as eligible under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) and have passed security checks but remain on the ground, the PA news agency understands.

Latest figures from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) showed that 11,474 people had been able to leave the country since the evacuation mission Operation Pitting began on August 13.

This includes embassy staff, British nationals, those eligible under the Afghan relocation and assistance policy (Arap) programme, as well as some evacuees from allied countries.

On Tuesday, Joe Biden spoke of the terrorist threat to the airport, even as he stood by his decision not to extend the evacuation deadline beyond August 31.

“Every day we're on the ground is another day we know that Isis-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both US and allied forces and innocent civilians,” he said.

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