Taliban guards continue to protect civilians outside Kabul airport, an official from the extremist group said on Thursday, adding that Western forces must stick to a deadline of completing evacuations from Afghanistan by the end of the month.
“Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport, they face a threat too from [ISIS],” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The US and allies urged people to move away from Kabul airport on Thursday due to the threat of an ISIS terror attack as Western troops hurry to evacuate as many Afghans as possible before an Aug. 31 deadline.
Pressure to complete the evacuations of thousands of foreigners and Afghans who helped Western countries during the 20-year war against the Taliban has intensified with all US and allied troops due to leave the airport next week.
In an alert issued on Wednesday evening, the US Embassy in Kabul advised US citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately, citing unspecified “security threats.”
Britain issued a similar advisory, telling people in the area of the airport to “move away to a safe location.”
“There is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack,” the British Foreign Office statement said.
Australia also urged its citizens and those with a visa for Australia to leave the area, warning of a “very high threat of a terrorist attack” at the airport.
The warnings came against a chaotic backdrop in the capital, Kabul, and its airport, where a massive airlift of foreign nationals and their families as well as some Afghans has been underway since the Taliban captured the city on Aug. 15.
While Western troops inside the airport worked feverishly to keep the evacuation moving as fast as possible, Taliban fighters guarded the perimeter outside where thousands of people have thronged, trying to flee the country rather than stay in a Taliban ruled Afghanistan.
“It’s very easy for a suicide bomber to attack the corridors filled with people and warnings have been issued repeatedly,” Ahmedullah Rafiqzai, an Afghan official working at the Directorate of Civil Aviation at the Kabul airport, told Reuters.
“But people don’t want to move, it’s their determination to leave this country that they are not scared to even die, everyone is risking their life.”
Taliban fighters have promised to provide security outside the airport, but intelligence reports of an imminent threat from ISIS militants cannot be ignored, a NATO country diplomat in the Afghan capital said on Thursday.
In the 11 days since the Taliban swept into Kabul, the US and its allies have mounted one of the biggest air evacuations in history, bringing out more than 88,000 people, including 19,000 in the past 24 hours. The US military says planes are taking off the equivalent of every 39 minutes.
The Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule was marked by public executions and the curtailment of basic freedoms. Women were barred from school or work.
The US-backed Afghan government collapsed swiftly after Biden withdrew the troops, two decades after US-back forces had ousted the Taliban in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, planned from Afghan territory by al-Qaeda.