KABUL: In a second drone strike since the Kabul airport bombing by the militant Islamic State (IS) group, the United States on Sunday killed a ‘suicide bomber’ in a vehicle aiming to hit the airport again as US forces worked to complete a withdrawal that will end two decades of military involvement in Afghanistan, officials said.
An Afghan police chief says a rocket on Sunday afternoon struck a neighborhood northwest of Kabul’s international airport, killing a child.
A Taliban spokesman confirmed the strike and said a possible second strike had hit a nearby house. The vehicle and those inside it were killed in the drone strike, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, adding that the Taliban had started their own investigations to determine whether it was really a suicide bomber driving a vehicle loaded with explosives.
The series of strikes come after a suicide bomber from the IS group on Thursday targeted the Kabul airport, leaving at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members dead, while the Taliban, who had announced amnesty even to their enemies, were holding talks with different leaders in an attempt to form an inclusive government in Afghanistan.
The US said it had only struck the vehicle, but added that secondary blasts indicated “a substantial amount of explosive material”. Officials said the strike targeted suspected militants of IS that is an enemy of both the West and the Taliban.
Local media reported there may have been civilian casualties that the US said it was assessing.
One US official said the strike was carried out by an unmanned aircraft piloted from outside Afghanistan, and secondary explosions following the strike showed the target had been carrying a substantial amount of explosives.
The airport has been the scene of a massive airlift by US and allied forces as US President Joe Biden said he would stick by his deadline to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by August 31.
The United States and allies have taken about 114,400 people - foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans - out of the country in the past two weeks, but tens of thousands who want to go will be left behind. “We tried every option because our lives are in danger. They (the Americans or foreign powers) must show us a way to be saved. We should leave Afghanistan or they should provide a safe place for us,” said one woman outside the airport.
The airlift — one of the biggest such evacuation operations ever — marked the end of a 20-year Western mission in Afghanistan that began when US-led forces had ousted a Taliban government for providing safe haven to the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The final chapter of troop withdrawal came after the US and the Taliban made a deal to end the foreign involvement by August 31.
A Taliban official told Reuters the group had engineers and technicians ready to take charge of the airport. “We are waiting for the final nod from the Americans to secure full control over Kabul airport as both sides aim for a swift handover,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Afghan government’s collapse leaves an administrative vacuum, but Taliban spokesman Mujahid said the difficulties would subside quickly once the new administration was up and running.
He said the Taliban would announce a full cabinet in the coming days. It had appointed governors and police chiefs in all but one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, he said.
A band of veteran Afghan leaders, including two regional strongmen, are angling for talks with the Taliban and plan to meet within weeks to form a new front for holding negotiations on the next government, a member of a group said. Khalid Noor, son of Atta Mohammad Noor, the once-powerful governor of northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province, said the group comprised veteran ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum and others opposed to the Taliban’s takeover.
“We prefer to negotiate collectively, because it is not that the problem of Afghanistan will be solved just by one of us,” Noor, 27, told Reuters in an interview from an undisclosed location. “So, it is important for the entire political community of the country to be involved, especially the traditional leaders, those with power, with public support,” he said.
In Baghlan province, an Afghan folk singer, Andarabis, was shot dead under unclear circumstances. The Taliban previously came to Andarabi’s home and searched it, even drinking tea with the musician, his son Jawad Andarabi told The Associated Press. But something changed Friday. His son said he wanted justice and that a local Taliban council had promised to punish his father’s killer. Mujahid also confirmed to the AP that the Taliban would investigate the murder.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signalled his willingness to help the Taliban develop Afghanistan, saying their reformist approach to issues such as women’s rights would be taken into consideration in any future negotiations. Citing Turkey’s experience in large-scale construction and infrastructure projects, Erdogan said: We want to help on this point ... But to help, the doors need to be opened. That’s why our intelligence (agency) is currently meeting Taliban representatives.
At a meeting with elders, known as a loya jirga, held here in Kabul on Sunday, Taliban’s acting minister for higher education Abdul Baqi Haqqani said Afghan women would be allowed to study at university. “The people of Afghanistan will continue their higher education in the light of Sharia law in safety without being in a mixed male and female environment,” he said.
Girls and boys will also be segregated at primary and secondary schools, which is already common throughout the deeply conservative Afghanistan. The Taliban wanted to “create a reasonable and Islamic curriculum that is in line with our Islamic, national and historical values and, on the other hand, be able to compete with other countries”, he added.
The Taliban have pledged to respect progress made in women’s rights, but whether women can work, get education at all levels and be able to mix with men have been some of the most pressing questions. No women were present at the jirga, which included other senior Taliban officials. “The Taliban’s ministry of higher education consulted only male teachers and students on resuming the function of universities,” said a lecturer who worked at a city university during the last government. She said that showed “the systematic prevention of women’s participation in decision making” and “a gap between the Taliban’s commitments and actions”.
During their previous brutal rule, the Taliban had excluded women from public life and entertainment was banned. The Taliban who have claimed to be moderate this time have yet to announce their government, saying they would wait until after the departure of US and foreign forces
Taliban’s appeal to Western nations
The Taliban appealed to the US and other Western nations to maintain diplomatic relations after withdrawing.
Britain, whose last military flight left Kabul on Saturday, linked the diplomatic ties with the safe passage by Taliban for those who want to leave and respect human rights. Also, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington expected the Taliban to still allow safe passage for Americans and others to leave after the US military withdrawal is completed. “The Taliban have both communicated privately and publicly that they will allow for safe passage,” Jake Sullivan told CBS TV.
France ended its evacuation flights out of Kabul on Friday night, while German foreign office said 147 people in need of protection, including local staff for the German government and employees of a German security contractor, were evacuated on Sunday morning with help from US forces.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday only 300 American citizens still in Afghanistan were seeking to leave the country. “We have about 300 American citizens left, who have indicated to us that they want to leave. We are very actively working to help them get to the airport, get on a plane and get out of Afghanistan,” he told ABC.
However, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told Fox News on Sunday that some Americans had chosen to stay beyond the August 31 deadline set to complete the evacuation. He added, “They are not going to be stuck in Afghanistan”, as the US has “a mechanism to get them out”.
Seeking to reassure Americans and their remaining allies in Afghanistan about the deeply uncertain future, the NSA said: “The Taliban have made commitments to us...and we have leverage to hold them to those commitments.” Sullivan did not elaborate about the leverage, but the US and other countries have frozen billions of dollars of Afghan government assets.
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2021