KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban deployed extra forces around Kabul’s airport Saturday to prevent large crowds from gathering after a devastating suicide attack two days earlier, as the massive U.S.-led airlift wound down ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline.
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.
A suicide attack on Thursday by an Islamic State affiliate killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, and there are concerns that the group, which is far more radical than the Taliban, could strike again. The U.S. military said it killed an IS militant early Saturday in a drone strike, after U.S. President Joe Biden had promised swift retaliation.
Many Western nations have already completed their evacuation operations ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces.
An Afghan who had worked as a translator for the U.S. military said he was with a group of people with permission to leave who tried to reach the airport late Friday. After passing through three checkpoints they were stopped at a fourth. An argument ensued, and the Taliban said they had been told by the Americans to only let U.S. passport-holders through.
“I am so hopeless for my future,” the man told The Associated Press after returning to Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. “If the evacuation is over, what will happen to us?”
On Saturday, the Taliban fired warning shots and deployed some kind of colored smoke on a road leading to the airport, sending dozens of people scattering, according to a video circulating online that was consistent with AP reporting.
More than 110,000 people have been safely evacuated through the Kabul airport since the Taliban takeover, according to the U.S., including around 6,800 in the last 24 hours. But thousands more are struggling to leave and may not make it out by Tuesday.