Gen. Frank McKenzie said that he recommended maintaining a small force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan earlier this year.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul’s international airport killed seven Afghan civilians in the crowds, the British military said Sunday, showing the danger still posed to those trying to flee the Taliban’s takeover of the country.
The deaths come as a new, perceived threat from the Islamic State group affiliate in Afghanistan has seen U.S. military planes do rapid, diving combat landings at the airport surrounded by Taliban fighters. Other aircraft have shot off flares on takeoff, an effort to confuse possible heat-seeking missiles targeting the planes.
The changes come as the U.S. Embassy issued a new security warning Saturday telling citizens not to travel to the Kabul airport without individual instruction from a U.S. government representative. Officials declined to provide more specifics about the IS threat but described it as significant. They said there have been no confirmed attacks as yet by the militants, who have battled the Taliban in the past.
On Sunday, the British military acknowledged the seven deaths of civilians in the crowds in Kabul. There have been stampedes and crushing injuries in the crowds, especially as Taliban fighters fire into the air to drive away those desperate to get on any flight out of the country.
“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
On Saturday, British and Western troops in full combat gear tried to control the crowds pressing in. They carried away some who were sweating and pale. With temperatures reaching 34 degree Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit), the soldiers sprayed water from a hose on those gathered or gave them bottled water to pour over their heads.
“Listen sir, you need to calm down,” one soldier told a man laying in the dirt, as another gave him an orange liquid. “Calm down.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether those killed had been physically crushed, suffocated or suffered a fatal heart attack in the crowds. Soldiers covered several corpses in white clothes to hide them from view. Other troops stood atop concrete barriers or shipping containers, trying to calm the crowd. Gunshots occasionally rang out.
Speaking to an Iranian state television channel late Saturday night in a video call, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem blamed the deaths at the airport on the Americans in what quickly became a combative interview.
“The Americans announced that we would take you to America with us and people gathered at Kabul airport,” Naeem said. “If it was announced right now in any country in the world, would people not go?”
Former Vice President Mike Pence claimed Tuesday that President Joe Biden reneged on the cease-fire deal his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, agreed with the Taliban in February 2020, setting the stage for what Pence called “a foreign-policy humiliation unlike anything our country has endured since the Iran hostage crisis.”
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Pence claimed that by the time the 45th president left office, “the Afghan government and the Taliban each controlled their respective territories, neither was mounting major offensives, and America had only 2,500 U.S. troops in the country—the smallest military presence since the war began in 2001.”
The key provisions of the agreement — described as “foolhardy” in the pages of The Post by Rich Lowry last month — included the US withdrawing all combat forces from Afghanistan by May of this year, the Taliban denying safe haven to terror groups, the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security forces held by the Taliban, and the beginning of comprehensive peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Western-backed Afghan government.
In Tuesday’s op-ed, Pence credited the agreement with the fact that the US “has not suffered a single combat casualty” in Afghanistan in 18 months.
US defence officials reportedly said the passengers – among them women and children – on the flight were safely evacuated from Kabul to Qatar on Sunday.
5,000 troops are being sent to Afghanistan to evacuate U.S. Diplomats and Afghan allies.
WASHINGTON — People with ties to Afghanistan are pleading to President Joe Biden to step in and help as hundreds of people protested Saturday afternoon outside the White House.
The protest was hours after President Biden authorized an additional 1,000 U.S. troops for deployment to Afghanistan, raising to roughly 5,000 the number of U.S. troops to evacuate U.S. diplomats and Afghan allies.
“We want Mr. President to hear and to act immediately, we want him to act now because Afghanistan is in a tragedy and we want him to stop the Taliban,” Azahullah Zalmay said.
Zalmay lives in Northern Virginia but his home country is Afghanistan.
He said it’s been hard to watch what’s happening from 7,000 miles away.
“To be honest I am dying,” Zalmay said. “Since last night I haven’t slept yet. I couldn’t sleep. It’s a tragedy for my people. I can’t sleep.”
The insurgents stormed across the country, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies melted away.
WHY DID THE AFGHAN SECURITY FORCES COLLAPSE?
The short answer? Corruption.
The U.S. and its NATO allies spent billions of dollars over two decades to train and equip Afghan security forces. But the Western-backed government was rife with corruption.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT IN AFGHANISTAN?
It’s not clear.
The Taliban say they want to form an “inclusive, Islamic government” with other factions. They are holding negotiations with senior politicians, including leaders in the former government.
They have pledged to enforce Islamic law but say they will provide a secure environment for the return of normal life after decades of war.
But many Afghans distrust the Taliban and fear that their rule will be violent and oppressive. One sign that worries people is that they want to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what they called it the last time they ruled.
The Taliban are advancing rapidly across large parts of Afghanistan. They are now in control of more territory than at any time since they were ousted from power in 2001.
Emboldened by the withdrawal of US troops, they are gaining ground in many districts. Government forces are in retreat.
Cities now under Taliban control include Kandahar, Herat, Lashkar Gah and Ghazni, which is just 150km from Kabul.
Taliban fighters have also taken Mazar-i-Sharif, an anti-Taliban bastion which was the last major city in northern Afghanistan still under government control.
The U.S. is deploying 3,000 troops to Afghanistan in order to facilitate the drawdown of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to a “core diplomatic presence,” as Taliban militants rapidly advance toward the Afghan capital.
The troops, which will consist of three infantry battalions total from the Marines and Army, will deploy to Hamid Karzai International Airport within 24 to 48 hours, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
“This is a very narrowly focused mission of safeguarding the orderly reduction of civilian personnel out of Afghanistan,” Kirby told reporters during a press briefing Thursday.
When asked if the troops going to Kabul had a combat mission, Kirby said U.S. forces maintain the right to self defense, but the mission is temporary with a focus on protecting the movement of civilian personnel. Kirby told reporters that the U.S. is still on track to complete its withdrawal by August 31.
In addition, a U.S. infantry brigade will be positioned in Kuwait in the event they are needed in Afghanistan to help secure Hamid Karzai International Airport, according to Kirby.
And a joint unit from the Army and Air Force, consisting of 1,000 personnel, will deploy to Qatar to help process visas for Afghans who helped the U.S., Kirby said.
The decision to deploy additional U.S. troops comes as the Taliban offensive makes rapid advances.
The militants captured the strategic city of Ghazni on Thursday, bringing their front line within 95 miles of Kabul, a staggering development that comes nearly two weeks before U.S. and NATO coalition forces exit.
The Taliban also claims to have captured Afghanistan’s third-largest city, Herat, in the northwest close to Iran. Fierce fighting has also been reported in Kandahar, the nation’s second-largest city.
“In light of the evolving security situation, we expect to draw down to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani earlier Thursday to coordinate planning, according Price.
- The Taliban has been seizing territory across Afghanistan as US-led forces withdraw.
- The US has sent B-52 bombers and Spectre gunships to stop the Taliban advance on three key cities.
- The move shows how Afghan forces are still reliant on the US for military equipment and support.
KABUL — The United States has launched several airstrikes in support of embattled Afghan forces in recent days, U.S. officials said Friday, an escalation in U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as the Taliban seizes more territory from government forces.
The airstrikes were conducted at the request of Afghan forces under attack by the Taliban or to destroy equipment stolen by the militants, including artillery and vehicles, according to the two U.S. officials.An Afghan military official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the situation, said the escalation of U.S. strikes has been “significant” compared to recent months, concentrated in the northern province of Kunduz and in Kandahar.
“Strategic momentum appears to be sort of with the Taliban,” Milley said.
For weeks, the Afghan military has bitterly fought to maintain control of provincial capitals after losing huge swaths of the country’s rural territory, often with little or no resistance. Militants have besieged the capitals by seizing districts nearby, choking off key roads in a bid to deny Afghan troops freedom of movement.
No provincial capitals have fallen, but Milley said the Taliban’s strategy has forced Afghan security forces to abandon some districts and reconsolidate to defend populated cities.
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (AP) — At least 34 people were killed on Sunday in two separate suicide bombings in Afghanistan that targeted a military base and a provincial chief, officials said.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks, which took place as Afghan government representatives and the Taliban hold face-to-face talks in Qatar for the first time to end the country’s decades-long war.
In eastern Ghazni province, 31 soldiers were killed and 24 others wounded when the attacker drove a military humvee full of explosives onto an army commando base before detonating the car bomb, according to an official in Afghanistan’s National Security Council, who spoke anonymously because he was not permitted to speak directly to the media.
Ghazni’s provincial health department chief, Zahir Shah Nikmal, also confirmed the death toll and casualty figures from the attack.
The grand assembly is meeting in Kabul this week to discuss peace and called for an immediate ceasefire between the government and militants.
President Ashraf Ghani agreed to a truce provided it was not “one-sided”.
But the Taliban rejected the call and accused members of being government allies.
In 2018 the Taliban agreed a three-day ceasefire coinciding with Eid at the end of the holy month of Ramadan – their first since the 2001 US-led invasion.
Speaking at the meeting of the loya jirga – a grand tribal council attended by 3,200 religious leaders, politicians and representatives from across the country – Mr Ghani said: “Let us prove that only Western countries cannot solve this conflict. There is also human civilisation here.”