The Taliban have deployed extra forces around Kabul’s airport to prevent large crowds from gathering after a deadly suicide attack two days earlier.
The massive U.S.-led airlift is winding down ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline, with many allies having completed their own operations.
The Taliban on Saturday set up new layers of checkpoints on roads leading to the airport, some manned by uniformed fighters with Humvees and night-vision goggles captured from Afghan security forces.
Areas where large crowds have massed for the past two weeks were largely empty. A suicide attack Thursday by an Islamic State affiliate killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, and there are concerns that the group could strike again.
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KABUL — Hundreds of Afghans have protested outside a bank in Kabul as others form long lines at cash machines.
The protesters Saturday at New Kabul Bank included many civil servants demanding their salaries, which they said had not been paid for the past three to six months.
They said even though banks reopened three days ago no one has been able to withdraw cash. ATM machines are still operating, but withdrawals are limited to around $200 every 24 hours, contributing to the formation of long lines.
Meanwhile, a U.N. agency warned that a worsening drought could leave millions in need of humanitarian aid.
The economic crisis could give Western nations leverage as they urge Afghanistan’s new rulers to form an inclusive government and allow people to leave after the planned withdrawal of all U.S. forces on Aug. 31.
ROME — A NATO diplomat who helped coordinate evacuations at Kabul airport says the organization will try its best to get those who were left behind to safety.
Stefano Pontecorvo spoke to reporters at Rome’s main airport Saturday morning shortly after disembarking from an Italian Air Force plane that carried out Italy’s final evacuation of Afghan civilians.
“We crossed the line between possible and impossible to get in (to the airport) everybody we could, keep the airport running, to coordinate whatever” was doable given the situation, said Pontecorvo, who is NATO’s senior civilian representative to Afghanistan.
But Pontecorvo said he was “unsatisfied because we left a few behind, which we are not abandoning, but we will strive our best” to get them to safety.
Referring to Thursday’s Islamic State attack outside the airport perimeter, Pontecorvo also praised “the generosity of the servicemen, who under threat, went to the gate and pulled family after family” inside the facility.
He referred to the 13 members of the U.S. military whose lives were lost, saying “even having lost in that way 12 brothers and one sister, in a couple of hours (the U.S. military) had the airport and everything else back running so we could get people out.”
TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader has called the situation in Afghanistan a tragedy and blamed the U.S. for the problems there.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his first official meeting with new president Ebrahim Raisi’s Cabinet on Saturday said “the tragedies in Afghanistan are deeply affecting human beings (and were) made by America.”
“The hardships they are suffering, the incidents that are happening, Thursday’s incident, such killings, all by America,” he said.
At the Kabul airport, thousands are still gathering in hope of fleeing the country after the Taliban takeover, even after a suicide attack Thursday killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members and amid warnings of more attacks. A massive U.S.-led airlift is winding down
Khamenei said Americans “occupied” Afghanistan for 20 years.
LONDON — Britain is starting to bring its troops home from Afghanistan as the country’s evacuation operation at Kabul airport ends.
A Royal Air Force plane carrying soldiers landed at the RAF Brize Norton air base northwest of London on Saturday morning. The troops are part of a contingent of 1,000 that has been based in Kabul to help run the airlift.
Flights bringing U.K. citizens and Afghans have largely ended, though the head of the armed forces, Gen. Nick Carter, said there would be a “very few” more on Saturday.
Britain says it has evacuated more than 14,500 people from Kabul in the past two weeks, but that as many as 1,000 Afghans entitled to come to the U.K. have been left behind.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised Friday to “shift heaven and earth” to get more people from Afghanistan to Britain by other means, though no concrete details have been offered.
ROME — Italy’s final evacuation flight of refugees from Afghanistan has landed at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport.
The Italian Air Force C-130J with 58 Afghan citizens aboard arrived Saturday morning, some 17 hours after it departed from the Kabul airport and after a planned stopover.
Also aboard were Italy’s consul and a NATO diplomat who had coordinated evacuations at the Kabul airport.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Italy was prepared to work with the United Nations and with countries bordering Afghanistan on what he described as the “more difficult phase.”
He said that consisted of efforts to evacuate other Afghan citizens who worked with Italy’s military during its 20-year presence in Afghanistan but weren’t able to get into Kabul airport in time for the evacuation flights. He didn’t say how many still were eligible for evacuation to Italy.
Rescuing those citizens “would give them the same possibility” of starting a new life outside their homeland, Di Maio said in a brief statement at Rome’s airport. He said the 4,890 Afghans evacuated by Italy’s air force in 87 flights was the highest number of any European Union nation.
Italy’s remaining soldiers left on a separate flight from Kabul on Friday night. That air force flight went to Kuwait and the troops are due back in Italy early next week.
ROME — A U.N. agency is warning that worsening drought in Afghanistan threatens the livelihoods of more than 7 million people.
The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Saturday issued an appeal for humanitarian assistance. Adding to the plight of what the agency termed “severe drought” are the economic impact of COVID-19 and widespread internal displacement of Afghans amid enduring conflict.
Earlier this month, the U.N. World Food Program, another Rome-based agency, estimated that some 14 million people — roughly one out of every three Afghans — urgently need food assistance.
The FAO said crucial help is needed ahead of the winter wheat planting season, which begins in a month in many areas.
FAO’s representative in Afghanistan, Richard Trenchard, said in a statement that “disaster looms” if sufficient help doesn’t materialize for the next winter wheat season.
WASHINGTON — The United States military struck back at the Islamic State on Saturday, bombing an IS member in Afghanistan less than 48 hours after a devastating suicide bombing claimed by the group killed as many as 169 Afghans and 13 American service members at the Kabul airport.
U.S. Central Command said the U.S. conducted a drone strike against an Islamic State member in Nangarhar believed to be involved in planning attacks against the U.S. in Kabul. The strike killed one individual, and spokesman Navy Capt. William Urban said they knew of no civilian casualties.
It wasn’t clear if that individual was involved specifically in the Thursday suicide blast outside the gates of the Kabul airport, where crowds of Afghans were desperately trying to get in as part of the ongoing evacuation from the country after the Taliban’s rapid takeover.
The airstrike fulfilled a vow President Joe Biden made to the nation Thursday when he said the perpetrators of the attack would not be able to hide. “We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said. Pentagon leaders told reporters Friday that they were prepared for whatever retaliatory action the president ordered.
“We have options there right now,” said Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.