Desperate Afghans trying to flee Kabul have returned to the fetid canal where a suicide bomber blew himself up as the final hours of evacuation tick down.
Flights resumed with new urgency on Friday, a day after a double suicide bombing killed at least 103 people, including 13 U.S. service personnel.
Thousands of Afghans are still trying to flee the Taliban, but their hopes are fading fast as the US and its allies are packing up their rescue operations.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said today that the ‘gates were closed’ and that the UK’s final evacuation flights would end within hours.
While the U.S. on Thursday said more than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated from Kabul, as many as 1,000 Americans and tens of thousands more Afghans are struggling to leave in one of history’s largest airlifts.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the U.S. Central Command chief overseeing the evacuation, on Thursday said about 5,000 people were awaiting flights on the airfield.
People are still pouring into the canal which surrounds the perimeter of the airport, standing in waters which were yesterday filled with the blood of scores of people after a bomb tore through the crowd.
Footage from the ground revealed a scene of utter despair, with shouts and cries among the Afghans, some seen clambering up walls out of the canal and others wading through with luggage atop their heads.
In one location, dozens of Taliban members with heavy weapons about 500 meters from the airport were preventing anyone from venturing forward.
TODAY and YESTERDAY: Crowds pack into the open sewer which runs around the airport perimeter (left) just hours after it was the scene of carnage when a suicide bomber blew himself up
Afghans desperate to flee the country returned to the fetid canal which runs the perimeter of Kabul airport
A Taliban fighter stands guard as bloody rags strew the ground where a suicide bomber blew himself up on Thursday
Thousands were seen trying to make their way to the airport gates today as the US and its allies began wrapping up their operations
A Taliban fighter stands guard after a double suicide bombing at Kabul airport
Wounded women arrive at a hospital for treatment after two blasts outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021
Injured Afghans flee Kabul airport on Thursday night after two explosions and gunfire ripped through crowds
The bombings on Thursday marked the deadliest day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since August 2011.
In an emotional speech, President Joe Biden blamed the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate, far more radical than the Taliban militants who seized power less than two weeks ago.
‘We will rescue the Americans; we will get our Afghan allies out, and our mission will go on,’ Biden said. But despite intense pressure to extend Tuesday’s deadline, he has cited the threat of terrorist attacks as a reason to keep to his plan.
The Taliban, back in control of Afghanistan two decades after they were ousted in a U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, insist on the deadline. The Trump administration in February 2020 struck an agreement with the Taliban that called for it to halt attacks on Americans in exchange for the removal of all U.S. troops and contractors by May; Biden announced in April he would have them out by September.
Thursday’s attacks led Jamshad, who gave just his one name, to come early Friday with his wife and three small children, clutching an invitation to a Western country he didn’t want to name. This was his first attempt to leave, he said: ‘After the explosion I decided I would try because I am afraid now there will be more attacks and I think now I have to leave.’
‘Believe me, I think that an explosion will happen any second or minute, God is my witness, but we have lots of challenges in our lives, that is why we take the risk to come here and we overcome fear,’ said Ahmadullah Herawi, also seeking to flee.
The scenes at the airport, with people standing knee-deep in sewage and families thrusting documents and even young children toward U.S. troops behind razor wire, have horrified many around the world as far-flung efforts continue to help people escape.
But those chances are fading fast for many. Some U.S. allies have said they are ending evacuation efforts, in part to give the U.S. time to wrap up its evacuation work before getting 5,000 of its troops out by Tuesday.
Britain said Friday its evacuations from Afghanistan will end within hours, and the main British processing center for eligible Afghans has been closed. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News there would be ‘eight or nine’ evacuation flights on Friday, and they will be the last. British troops will leave over the next few days.
Scenes from the ground show injured Afghans being removed in wheelchairs.
A map showing the various entrances to Kabul airport and the site of the explosions which targeted a gate which was being manned by US troops
Wounded Afghans lie on a bed at a hospital after a deadly explosions outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover
A man injured in the Kabul terrorists attacks on Thursday arrives at hospital to be treated. Among those killed in the two bomb attacks were 12 US Marines and one Navy medic
Afghan refugees crouch in a group as British military secure the perimeter outside the Baron Hotel, near the Abbey Gate, in Kabul following yesterday’s double bombing
The Spanish government said it has ended its evacuation operation. And the French European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, said on French radio Europe 1 that France will end its evacuation operation ‘soon’ but may seek to extend it until after Friday night.
Untold thousands of Afghans, especially ones who had worked with the U.S. and other Western countries, are now in hiding from the Taliban, fearing retaliation despite the group’s offer of full amnesty. The militant group has claimed it has become more moderate since its harsh rule from 1996 to 2001, when it largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music and held public executions.
But Afghans in Kabul and elsewhere have reported that some Taliban members are barring girls from attending school and going door to door in search of people who had worked with Western forces.
No one knows how effective the Taliban will be at combating the Sunni extremists of IS, who have links to the group’s more well-known affiliate in Syria and Iraq and have carried out a series of brutal attacks in Afghanistan, mainly targeting its Shiite Muslim minority.