‘Several explosions’ outside Kabul airport, French president says

Thousands still trying to flee as evacuation efforts slow ahead of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

French President Emmanuel Macron said “the situation has seriously deteriorated” near Kabul’s airport after “several explosions happened in the last hours.” The Pentagon had also confirmed the explosions and said there were a number of casualties.
Speaking at a news conference during a visit to Dublin, Ireland, Macron said we are facing an extremely tense situation that makes us co-ordinate obviously with our American allies and call for the utmost caution in a context we don’t control. He said France will seek to protect and evacuate French nationals, people from allied countries and Afghans as long as the conditions will be met at the airport.
Macron said he did not have more details about the circumstances of the explosions.
The French president’s update came after the Pentagon confirmed that there was an explosion Thursday outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, where thousands of people have flocked as they try to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Western nations had warned earlier in the day of a possible attack at the airport in the waning days of a massive airlift. Suspicion for any attack targeting the crowds would likely fall on the Islamic State group and not the Taliban, who have been deployed at the airport’s gates trying to control the mass of people.
Adam Khan, an Afghan waiting outside the airport, said the explosion went off in a crowd of people waiting to enter. Khan, who said he was standing about 30 metres away from the blast, said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who lost body parts.
An explosion went off Thursday outside the Kabul airport, where thousands of people have gathered to try to flee the country in a Western airlift since the Taliban seized power earlier this month. The Pentagon confirmed the blast, but there was no immediate word on casualties.
Western nations had warned of a possible attack in the waning days of the massive evacuation efforts, and several countries urged people to avoid the airport, where an official said there was a threat of a suicide bombing.
But just days — or even hours for some nations — before the evacuation effort ends, few appeared to have heeded the call.
Over the last week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most searing images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the Taliban’s takeover, as flight after flight took off carrying those who fear a return to the militants’ brutal rule.
Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and begun to withdraw their soldiers and diplomats, signalling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. The Taliban have so far honoured a pledge not to attack Western forces during the evacuation, but insist that foreign troops must be out by America’s self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31.
Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from Afghanistan’s Islamic State group affiliate, which likely has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during their blitz across the country.
The acting U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling. But in an interview with ABC News Thursday, he would not give details and did not say whether the threat remained.
Shortly after, the blast was reported.

Late Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport, with Australia’s foreign minister saying there was a very high threat of a terrorist attack.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid earlier denied that any attack was imminent.
Earlier Thursday, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at those gathered at one airport gate to try to drive the crowd away, as someone launched tear gas canisters elsewhere. While some fled, others just sat on the ground, covered their faces and waited in the noxious fumes.

‘We have no chance except escaping’

Nadia Sadat, a 27-year-old Afghan, carried her two-year-old daughter with her outside the airport. She and her husband, who had worked with coalition forces, missed a call from a number they believed was the U.S. State Department and were trying to get into the airport without any luck. Her husband had pressed ahead in the crowd to try to get them inside.
We have to find a way to evacuate because our lives are in danger, Sadat said. My husband received several threatening messages from unknown sources. We have no chance except escaping.
Gunshots later echoed in the area as Sadat waited. There is anarchy because of immense crowds, she said, blaming the U.S. for the chaos.
Aman Karimi, 50, escorted his daughter and her family to the airport, fearful the Taliban would target her because of her husband’s work with NATO.
The Taliban have already begun seeking those who have worked with NATO, he said. They are looking for them house-by-house at night.
Many Afghans share those fears. The hard-line Islamic group wrested back control of the country nearly 20 years after being ousted in a U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaeda orchestrated while being sheltered by the group.
Senior U.S. officials said Wednesday’s warning from the embassy was related to specific threats involving the Islamic State group and potential vehicle bombs. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing military operations.
The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan grew out of disaffected Taliban members who hold an even more extreme view of Islam. The Sunni extremists have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.
The Taliban have fought against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, but ISIS fighters were likely freed from prisons along with other inmates during the Taliban’s rapid advance. Extremists may have seized heavy weapons and equipment abandoned by Afghan troops.
Amid the warnings and the pending American withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuations, and European nations halted or prepared to stop their own operations.
CBC’s Ashley Burke brings you the latest  on Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan, and what officials had to say about the end of the evacuation effort:

Taliban ‘tightened the noose,’ Canadian general says

The reality on the ground is the perimeter of the airport is closed. The Taliban have tightened the noose, said Canadian Gen. Wayne Eyre, the country’s acting Chief of Defence Staff. It’s very, very difficult for anybody to get through at this point.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex told RTL radio his country’s efforts would stop Friday evening. Danish Defence Minister Trine Bramsen bluntly warned: It is no longer safe to fly in or out of Kabul.
Denmark’s last flight has already departed, and Poland and Belgium have also announced the end of their evacuations. The Dutch government said it had been told by the U.S. to leave Thursday.
But Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said some planes would continue to fly.
Evacuation operations in Kabul will not be wrapping up in 36 hours. We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission, he said in a tweet on Thursday, not long before the blast was reported.
The Taliban have said they’ll allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the deadline next week, but it remains unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants. Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said talks were underway between his country and the Taliban about allowing Turkish civilian experts to help run the facility.
The Taliban have promised to return Afghanistan to security and pledged they won’t seek revenge on those who opposed them or roll back progress on human rights. But many Afghans are skeptical.
An Afghan journalist from private broadcaster Tolo News described being beaten by Taliban. Ziar Yad said the fighters also beat his colleague and confiscated their cameras, technical equipment and a mobile phone as they tried to report on poverty in Kabul.
The issue has been shared with Taliban leaders; however, the perpetrators have not yet been arrested, which is a serious threat to freedom of expression, Yad wrote on Twitter.
The Associated Press