The United States has warned people against travelling to the Kabul International Airport, urging those of its citizens who are currently outside the perimeter to leave the area, as thousands of desperate foreigners and Afghans try to catch evacuation flights following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
“US citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the US Embassy in Afghanistan said in a statement late on Wednesday, citing unspecified “security threats.”
The warning followed similar ones from the UK and Australia, which advised people to stay away from the airport due to a “high threat” of an attack. Earlier in the day, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs cited an “ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack,” warning its citizens against traveling to the airport. Britain’s Foreign Office also gave similar advice, adding that if anyone can leave Afghanistan safely by other means, they should do so immediately.
US Army Major General William “Hank” Taylor, the deputy director of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, has estimated that there are more than 10,000 people at the Kabul airport waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan.
The Pentagon claimed it evacuated some 19,000 people in the past 24 hours.
More than 80,000 people, foreigners and Afghans, have been evacuated since August 14, the day before the Taliban laid siege to Kabul.
Extra security measures, including installing concrete barriers, have also been enforced around the evacuation processing center by the airport.
A senior US official anonymously told The New York Times that the United States was tracking a “specific” and “credible” threat at the airport from the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, which has carried out dozens of attacks in recent years, many targeting ethnic minorities and other civilians.
Thousands of Afghan nationals have camped outside the perimeter of the airport in desperate attempts to escape on the last flights out, some with documents allowing them to leave.
The warning to leave the airport vicinity came even though US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said earlier that 500 US citizens who had been in contact with the State Department over the past 24 hours about leaving the country had already been given instructions on how to get to the Kabul airport.
Blinken said there were as many as 1,500 Americans and countless other foreigners still in Afghanistan who were trying to make it to the airport before the planned complete withdrawal of US-led forces on August 31.
Death toll at Kabul airport rises to 25
At least 25 people have reportedly been killed in and around Kabul airport over the past 10 days.
Tolo News, citing witnesses, reported on Wednesday that most of the victims at the airport had been women and children who died as a result of stampedes and air shots.
The majority of the crowds who gathered at the airport where reportedly people who did not have the legal documents to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban had previously called on people without travel documents to leave the airport and return home, the report said.
The Taliban intensified their militant activities and rapidly overran major cities in recent weeks, as the US-led foreign forces enforced what has been seen as a hasty withdrawal. The militants laid siege to Kabul on August 15, and the then-Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country on the same day.
Since then, there have been chaos and confusion. Thousands of Afghan civilians and diplomats have rushed to take evacuation flights from Kabul.