KABUL: The United States pressed on into the final days of the chaotic airlift from Afghanistan on Friday amid tighter security measures and fears of more bloodshed, a day after the suicide attack at the Kabul airport killed well over 100 Afghans and 13 US service members.

The US warned that more attacks could come ahead of President Joe Biden’s fast-approaching deadline to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan.

Two officials said the Afghan death toll in Thursday’s bombing rose to 169, while the US said it was the deadliest day for American forces in Afghanistan since August 2011. Biden blamed the attack on Afghanistan’s offshoot of the militant Islamic State (IS) group, which is a lethal enemy of both the Taliban and the West.

The officials who gave the Afghan death toll were not authorised to talk to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity. The number of dead was subject to change as authorities examined the dismembered remains.

Dead include 13 US service members; Taliban say they will allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the US pullout

The Pentagon also said on Friday that there was just one suicide bomber at the airport gate not two, as US officials initially said.

As the call to prayer echoed on Friday through Kabul along with the roar of departing planes, the anxious crowds thronging the airport in hope of escaping Taliban rule appeared as large as ever despite the bombing. Afghans, American citizens and other foreigners were all acutely aware the window is closing to board a flight before the airlift ends and Western troops withdraw.

The attacks led Jamshed to head there in the morning with his wife and three small children, clutching an invitation to a Western country he didn’t want to name.

“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,” said Jamshed, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

The names of the Afghan victims began emerging and included a news agency’s founder along with a number of impoverished Afghans who had gone to the airport in hopes of realising a better life.

British officials said two of the country’s citizens and the child of another Briton also were among those killed when the bomb exploded in the crowd.

The 13 US service members who died included 10 Marines, a Navy sailor and an Army soldier. The military has not identified them or given a service affiliation for the last victim.

By the morning after the attack, the Taliban posted a pickup full of fighters and three captured Humvees and set up a barrier 500 metres from the airport, holding the crowds farther back from the US troops at the airport gates than before.

Security measures

Gen Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said in the hours after the bombings that the US would adjust security outside the gates as needed, including possibly asking the Taliban to change the location of their checkpoints.

He said screeners are necessary at the gates to check for weapons and other threats. “Somebody has actually got to watch someone else in the eyes and decide that they’re ready to come in,” McKenzie said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said: “We certainly are prepared and expect future attempts at terror attacks as the evacuation winds down.”

The US said more than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated through the Kabul airport, but thousands more are struggling to leave in one of history’s largest airlifts.

The White House said on Friday morning that 8,500 evacuees had been flown out aboard US military aircraft in the previous 24 hours, along with about 4,000 people on coalition flights. That was about the same total as the day before the attacks.

Outside the airport, Afghans acknowledged that going to the airport was risky but said they had few choices.

“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.

But chances to help those hoping to join the evacuation are fading fast. More European allies and other nations were ending their airlifts on Friday, in part to give the US time to wrap up its own operations and get 5,000 of its troops out by Tuesday.

The Taliban have said they will allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the US withdrawal, but it is unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2021

Opinion

Editorial

Elections in India
Updated 21 Apr, 2024

Elections in India

Independent accounts and spot reports are at variance with Modi-friendly TV anchors and they do not see an easy victory for the Indian premier.
IHC letter
21 Apr, 2024

IHC letter

THIS is a historic opportunity for the judiciary to define its institutional boundaries. It must not be squandered....
Olympic preparations
21 Apr, 2024

Olympic preparations

THIS past week marked the beginning of the 100-day countdown to the Paris Olympics, with the symbolic torch-lighting...
Isfahan strikes
Updated 20 Apr, 2024

Isfahan strikes

True de-escalation means Israel must start behaving like a normal state, not a rogue nation that threatens the entire region.
President’s speech
20 Apr, 2024

President’s speech

PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari seems to have managed to hit all the right notes in his address to the joint sitting of...
Karachi terror
20 Apr, 2024

Karachi terror

IS urban terrorism returning to Karachi? Yesterday’s deplorable suicide bombing attack on a van carrying five...