The US state department has told Americans still in Afghanistan to immediately leave the area around the Kabul airport citing a “specific, credible threat” just after President Joe Biden said his military commanders had warned that an attack was “highly likely” to take place in the next 36 hours.
These specific warnings and alerts came just days before the United States is scheduled to wrap up its evacuation process and the complete pullout of its troops.
“Due to a specific, credible threat, all US citizens in the vicinity of Kabul airport (Hamid Karzai International Airport), including the South (Airport Circle) gate, the new Ministry of the Interior, and the gate near the Panjshir Petrol station on the northwest side of the airport, should leave the airport area immediately,” the US embassy in Kabul, said in a security alert, on Saturday.
The state department estimates there are at least 500 Americans still left in Afghanistan who want to be evacuated.
The US embassy in Kabul has been working out of the airport and, The Washington Post has reported, President Biden is planning to withdraw the ambassador and the diplomatic staff by Tuesday despite a desire expressed by the Taliban for the US to retain its diplomatic mission. A final decision on the future presence of the US has not been taken yet though.
Earlier on Saturday, President Biden had also warned of an imminent attack. “Our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours,” he said in a statement. “I directed them to take every possible measure to prioritise force protection, and ensured that they have all the authorities, resources and plans to protect our men and women on the ground.”
“The situation on the ground continues to be extremely dangerous, and the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high,” Biden added.
The US had issued similar warnings ahead of the Kabul airport bombing last Thursday that killed more than 170 Afghans and 13 American troops. Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan (ISIS-K), an affiliate of the Islamic State, had claimed responsibility for the attack.
On the orders of Biden, who has vowed to “hunt down” the perpetrators of the Kabul attack, the US military killed two ISIS-K “planners and facilitators” in a drone strike in Nangarhar, a province of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan. One operative was injured. They had not been identified.
“I said we would go after the group responsible for the attack on our troops and innocent civilians in Kabul, and we have,” Biden said in the same statement as the likelihood of another attack in 36 hours. “This strike was not the last. We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay.”
The American president also said he was determined to continue the evacuation process “despite the treacherous situation in Kabul”.
The US flew out another 6,800 people on Friday, he said, including hundreds of Americans. “And today,” he added, “we discussed the ongoing preparations to help people continue to leave Afghanistan after our military departs”.