June 23, 2024

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Rockets fired at Kabul airport as evacuation deadline looms

3 min read

Rockets were fired at Kabul’s international airport on Monday as US troops rushed to complete evacuations a day ahead of the deadline for the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

Jen Psaki, White House spokesperson, confirmed that the airport had come under rocket attack but said that “operations continue uninterrupted”. There was no report of injuries and no one claimed responsibility for the barrage.

President Joe Biden was briefed on the attack and “reconfirmed his order that commanders redouble their effort to prioritise doing whatever is necessary to protect our forces on the ground”.

The rocket attack was launched after more than 100 people, including 13 US marines, were killed on Thursday by a suicide bomber who targeted a crowd of Afghans struggling to enter the airport to board flights out of the country.

Since the attack, which Washington and Taliban officials blamed on Isis-K, the US military has carried out two drone attacks after Biden vowed to “hunt down” those responsible for the bloodshed.

The first strike took place in the remote eastern Nangarhar province, where Washington claimed that they had killed an Isis-K “planner.

But the second drone strike, which hit a crowded Kabul neighbourhood on Sunday, has been mired in controversy. The US said the attack “successfully hit the target” and had destroyed an explosives-laden vehicle that was poised to be used in a second planned attack at the airport. But in Kabul, news reports said a former US army interpreter, and several of his young children, were killed in the strike.

As the evacuation effort wound down, anger was growing among Afghans selected for evacuation but who were unable to enter the airport to board their flights.

These included hundreds of students and alumni of the American University of Afghanistan, which has previously been targeted in terror attacks.

Some of those summoned by foreign embassies for evacuation flights were blocked by huge crowds of Afghans clamouring to enter the airport, many of them lacking paperwork and invitations.

“This is the fault of the US for lack of a good plan and lack of good management,” said one young woman, who spent three nights stuck with her young child outside the airport after being notified that she would be evacuated to Australia.

She finally gave up and returned home on Thursday morning, hours before the suicide bomber attacked the Abbey Gate.

Taliban leaders have insisted since last week that all Afghans with valid paperwork would be permitted to leave the country even after the US completed its troop withdrawal on Tuesday, and once normal commercial flights resumed at Kabul airport.

But few were confident that the Islamist militia would keep to its word as fears mounted of retribution against Taliban opponents.

On Sunday, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, told Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, that the two countries must “positively guide” Afghanistan’s new Taliban government and help it stabilise the country. Wang also urged the US to “alleviate rather than intensify conflicts” in the war-torn nation, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement. 

Blinken pressed Beijing to help “hold the Taliban accountable” for its commitments to facilitate free passage for those seeking to leave Afghanistan, according to a US state department spokesperson.

The Taliban this weekend also held a large meeting to discuss Afghanistan’s education policies and affirmed that women could attend school and universities, according to a lecturer at Kabul University.

However, Samiullah Mahdi, the lecturer, wrote on Twitter that students would be segregated by gender, and female students would only be taught by women or old men, which could prove challenging because historic gender restrictions had created a paucity of female teachers.

Additional reporting by Fazelminallah Qazizai in Kabul