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Biden: Strike against IS-K 'not the last' — as it happened

August 29, 2021

A US airstrike targeted the "Islamic State-Khorasan" in retaliation for the Kabul airport blast. US forces are on alert for another "highly likely" terror attack.

A MQ-9 Reaper, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles
The strike comes as the US continues its evacuation operations in KabulImage: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/File/Lt. Col.. Leslie Pratt, US Air Force
  • Pentagon said it killed 2 'high profile' IS-K members after the Kabul airport bombing
  • Biden warned of a 'highly likely' terror attack in the next 24-36 hours
  • The UK said its last troops in Kabul have left
  • The UK, France and Spain have finished evacuations from Kabul
  • Germany, the UK and the Netherlands agreed that evacuations remained a priority

These live updates are now closed.  Read the latest developments here.

US urges citizens to leave Kabul airport

The US Embassy in Kabul has urged all US citizens in the vicinity of Kabul airport to leave the area immediately due to a "specific, credible threat." 

Americans are asked to avoid traveling to the airport. 

The Australian government also issued a similar warning to avoid travel to the airport.

UK, France to request UN safe zone in Kabul

The UK and France will call for a safe zone in Kabul during an emergency UN meeting on Monday.

"Our resolution proposal aims to define a safe zone in Kabul, under UN control, which would allow humanitarian operations to continue," French President Emmanuel Macron told the Le Journal du Dimanche weekly newspaper.

UK says its final military flight left Kabul

Britain's Defense Ministry said the last flight carrying UK army personnel has left Kabul, ending the evacuation mission.

Defense Minister Ben Wallace said 15,000 people have been evacuated in the last two weeks. 

"We should be proud of our armed forces, welcoming to those coming for a better life, and… sad for those left behind," Wallace said on Twitter. 

"Our obligation to them does not end with our leaving," he added.

With the UK's 20-year mission to Afghanistan coming to an end, Wallace said that there would be "many lessons to learn," but there were also "endless examples of amazing achievements." 

Biden pledges more strikes against IS-K

After the Pentagon said two IS-K members were killed in a US drone strike, Biden said, "This strike was not the last."

Biden pledged that the US "will continue to hunt down any person" who was involved in the Kabul airport bombing earlier this week and "make them pay." 

The US president also said the situation in Kabul "continues to be extremely dangerous."

"Our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours. I directed them to take every possible measure to prioritize force protection," Biden said in a statement.

Germany, UK, Netherlands agree evacuations still a priority

Merkel's office said the German chancellor discussed the situation in Afghanistan with the Dutch and British premiers. 

Steffen Seibert, Merkel's spokesman, said the three leaders spoke about "possible political and diplomatic options," and that they "were in agreement" that evacuating allied-Afghans "will continue to be a top priority." 

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he and Merkel "agreed to have a presence again as soon as possible in Kabul, working with the UK and other countries, as soon as the political and security situation allows." 

Rutte said the Dutch government "will keep doing everything possible to enable evacuations to be resumed."

German foreign minister to head to Afghanistan's neighbors

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is due to travel to five countries that are involved in efforts to help Afghans.

Maas' four-day trip, starting Sunday, will include visits to Turkey and Qatar, as well as Afghanistan's neighboring countries Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. 

After the German evacuation mission ended, Maas vowed to continue working "until all those for whom we are responsible in Afghanistan are safe."

The German Foreign Office said at least 300 Germans and more than 10,000 Afghans who had worked with German organizations were still in Afghanistan after the last German airlift out of Kabul.

End to German mission shocks Afghan refugees

US troops begin final pullout 

The US military has begun the final withdrawal of its soldiers from Afghanistan, the Pentagon confirmed. 

A State Department spokesperson said at least 5,400 US citizens have been safely evacuated from Afghanistan since August 14. 

Another 350 US citizens, however, are still seeking to leave Afghanistan, according to the spokesperson. 

France says talks with the Taliban are underway 

France is in talks with the Taliban — through Qatar — to "protect and repatriate" Afghans at risk, Macron said. 

"Our goal is that in the days, weeks, months ahead, [France could] proceed with targeted evacuation operations of these men and women whom we identified,'' Macron said, hinting that airlines could be used "with security conditions that remain to be defined."

The French president did not further elaborate, but said the talks "remain fragile and very provisional." 

Taliban condemn US strike 

A Taliban spokesman condemned the US drone strike against IS-K members and said the operation was a "clear attack on Afghan territory," according to Reuters. 

The spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the Taliban expected to take full control of the Kabul airport "very soon" after US forces leave. 

Mujahid also said the Taliban would announce a new government in the coming days.

Pentagon: US drone strike killed senior IS-K members

A US airstrike killed two "high profile" members of the IS-K militia and left another wounded, according to the Pentagon. 

No civilians were hurt in the bombing, Major General Hank Taylor told reporters.

It was not immediately clear if the people targeted were directly involved in the Kabul airport bombing. 

John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, refused to reveal the names of the targets, but said the IS-K "lost a planner and lost a facilitator."

"The fact that two of these individuals are no longer walking on the face of the Earth, that's a good thing," Kirby added.

The US had earlier reported killing an IS-K "planner" in an airstrike. Kirby clarified that the "facilitator" was also killed in the same attack. 

UN food agency urges aid to Afghanistan

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) called on the international community to maintain humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. 

The FAO noted that besides the political turmoil, Afghanistan is also struggling with severe drought that is threatening the livelihoods of more than 7 million farmers. 
"Urgent agricultural support now is key to counter the impact of the drought and a worsening situation in Afghanistan's vast rural areas in the weeks and months ahead," the FAO said in a statement.

US draws down Kabul airport troops — source 

The number of US troops at Kabul airport has now fallen to below 4,000, a US official told the Reuters news agency, down from a peak of 5,800 during the operation.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said a drone strike that targeted an ISIS-K planner on Friday was not thought to have eliminated a senior militant.

UK says last evacuee flight has left

The UK says its final flight carrying Afghan evacuees has already left Kabul, and that further flights over the weekend will bring home remaining British troops.

London's ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, said from Kabul airport that it was "time to close this phase of the operation now."

"But we haven't forgotten the people who still need to leave," he said in a video posted on Twitter. "We'll continue to do everything we can to help them."

"Nor have we forgotten the brave, decent people of Afghanistan. They deserve to live in peace and security."

Britain says it has evacuated more than 14,500 people from Kabul over the past two weeks but that up to 1,100 Afghans who were entitled to go to the UK had been left behind.

UK says agreed with Germany on roadmap

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have discussed the situation in Afghanistan and agreed on the need for international aid

They reportedly also said a common approach by the G7 to the government of Afghanistan was needed.

"The Prime Minister and Chancellor resolved to work, alongside the rest of the G7, to put in place the roadmap on dealing with any new Afghan government discussed at last week's leaders' meeting," the Reuters news agency cited a statement from Johnson's office saying.

"The Prime Minister stressed that any recognition and engagement with the Taliban must be conditional on them allowing safe passage for those who want to leave the country and respecting human rights."

Taliban largely seal off Kabul airport

The Taliban have deployed extra forces around Kabul's airport to prevent large crowds from gathering outside the facility.

The Islamic fundamentalist group has also set up new checkpoints on roads leading to the airport.

The move came after a deadly suicide attack on Thursday, which killed scores of people, including US military personnel.

Meanwhile, the number of people trying to gain access to the airport has dropped, with areas surrounding the installation that were filled with crowds over the past couple of weeks looking largely empty today.

IS-K represents a 'high level of threat'

"Islamic State Khorasan" (IS-K) represents a "high level of threat" to the security situation in Kabul, said Yan St-Pierre, a counterterrorism expert at the Modern Security Consulting Group in Berlin.

"Because of the circumstances in Kabul, the chaos, the opportunity for targets and above all else the difficulties in securing the area, the group does represent a high level of threat," he told DW.

"We understand better now how they managed to pull off the attack on Thursday. It really shows that they used the vulnerabilities on site to carry out their attack."  

The expert, however, added that the group remains "fairly small," and it can't be compared — either in size or importance — to what we saw in the Middle East, whether in Syria or Iraq.

Still, he said, IS-K is an outfit that "has a growing number of followers and has a substantial regional network that allows it to grow and sustain itself."

"It's a group that is really trying to establish a new state according to its terms that are very different from what we understand to be a more radical view of Islam."  

Afghans protest outside Kabul bank as economic crisis deepens

Hundreds of Afghans have demonstrated outside the New Kabul Bank as others form long lines at cash machines.

The protesters included many civil servants demanding their salaries, which they said have not been paid for the past three to six months.

After the Taliban takeover of the country, banks stayed closed and reopened only three days ago. But no one has been able to withdraw cash from bank branches, the protesters said.

ATM machines are operating, but withdrawals are capped at around $200 (€169.5) per day, resulting in huge lines forming at the cash machines.

Meanwhile, a UN agency warned that the nation's economic crisis, coupled with a worsening drought, could leave millions in need of humanitarian assistance.

Afghans waiting in a line outside a bank to withdraw cash
Long lines of people looking to withdraw cash have formed outside banks and at cash machines in KabulImage: AP Photo/dpa/picture alliance

German army achieved 'incredible things' in Kabul

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has paid tribute to German soldiers who helped evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan.

They saw "the unbelievable and achieved the unbelievable," Kramp-Karrenbauer said late Friday after the last three military planes landed at an Air Force base near Hanover.

German Soldiers arrive on a plane from Tashkent, Uzbekistan at the Bundeswehr airbase in Wunstorf
'The Bundeswehr brought as many people as possible to safety under the most difficult circumstances on the ground,' Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer saidImage: Martin Meissner/AP Photo/picture alliance

"The soldiers more than met our expectations and we are deeply grateful to them," she added.

Since August 16, the German military flew 5,347 people out of Kabul, including more than 4,000 Afghans, in what Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Bundeswehr's largest evacuation mission. 

Taliban order female health staff back to work

In other news from Afghanistan, the Taliban have called on all women employed in the public health sector to return to work.

The decision comes two weeks after the hardline Islamist group swept back to power.

The Taliban have pledged to respect women's rights within the limits of its interpretation of Islam, but it remains murky how women and girls will fare with the militants in control.

It is largely unclear whether women in Afghanistan will be able to continue to pursue their professions. 

There were recent reports from the north of the country that midwives, for example, were no longer allowed to attend meetings with male doctors. 

During Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, women were not allowed to be treated by male doctors, which severely limited their access to health care.

What is the latest on the ground?

The US military said it had carried out a drone strike overnight targeting a "planner" from the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, east of Kabul and bordering Pakistan.

It did not say whether the target was connected to the deadly Kabul airport attack on Thursday.

"Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties," the US military said in a statement.

To prevent another attack near the airport, US forces have been forced to work closely with the Taliban, whose fighters are guarding the area outside the security perimeter set up by the US military.

Meanwhile, the airlift of those desperate to flee a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is in its final stages.

Over 5,000 people still remain inside Kabul airport awaiting evacuation. However, crowds waiting outside to gain access to the airport have thinned, the AFP news agency reported on Saturday.  

Many countries have already ended their evacuation operations. The UK plans to end its mission today.

At the White House, President Joe Biden's press secretary Jen Psaki said the next few days will be "the most dangerous period to date" and another attack is "likely."

The US embassy in Kabul also warned Americans to avoid Kabul's airport because of security threats and those at its gates should leave immediately.

UK to end Afghan evacuation mission on Saturday

British troops will end their evacuation operations in Afghanistan on Saturday, UK armed forces chief General Nick Carter said.

"We're reaching the end of the evacuation, which will take place during the course of today. And then it will be necessary to bring our troops out on the remaining aircraft," he told the BBC.

"We haven't been able to bring everyone out, and that has been heart-breaking. And there have been some very challenging judgments that have had to be made on the ground."

Last Italian flight with Afghan refugees arrives in Rome

Italy's final evacuation flight carrying refugees from Afghanistan has landed at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport.

The Italian Air Force C-130J aircraft transported 58 Afghan citizens, Italy's consul and a NATO diplomat who had coordinated evacuations at the Kabul airport.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said the nation's air force had evacuated 4,890 Afghans in 87 flights, the highest number of any European Union nation.

Italy's remaining soldiers left Afghanistan on a separate flight from Kabul on Friday night. That air force flight went to Kuwait and the troops are due back in Italy early next week.

Macron warns against dropping guard against 'IS' threat

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that the "Islamic State" group "remains a threat," warning countries across the world against dropping their guard against the terror outfit.

The warning comes days after an affiliate of the jihadists — the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) — claimed responsibility for carrying out a deadly bomb attack near the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

"We all know that we must not lower our guard, because Daesh (IS) remains a threat, and I know that the fight against these terrorist groups is a priority of your government," Macron said, after a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi in Baghdad.

France ends airlift operations out of Kabul

The French military has ended its mission to evacuate French citizens and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan, Defence Minister Florence Parly said.

In just under two weeks, French forces had managed to bring about 3,000 people to safety, including over 2,600 Afghans, she wrote on Twitter.

US tells citizens to avoid going to Kabul airport

The United States has urged citizens to "immediately" leave the gates around Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport.

"Because of security threats at the Kabul airport, we continue to advise US citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates," the US embassy in Kabul said in a security alert.

"US citizens who are at the Abbey gate, East gate, North gate or the New Ministry of Interior gate now should leave immediately," it added.

The warning came after a terror attack near the airport claimed the lives of scores of people, including 13 US military personnel.

US conducts drone strike on suspected 'Islamic State' attack planner

An alleged attack planner belonging to the "Islamic State-Khorasan" (IS-K) group was killed by a US drone strike in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said in a statement late Friday.

The strike targeted the suspected IS-K member in the eastern Afghan province of Nangahar.

It's unclear if the suspect played a role in the deadly Kabul airport bombing earlier this week. 

"Initial indications are that we killed the target," the US Central Command spokesperson Bill Urban said. "We know of no civilian casualties."

It comes after US President Joe Biden vowed to strike back against IS-K after the attack.

"We will hunt you down and make you pay," Biden said in a White House address on Thursday.

The president also said he instructed the military to conduct operations against IS-K assets, leadership and facilities.

The bombing at Kabul airport earlier this week killed at least 13 US soldiers and as many as 169 Afghans.

IS-K has claimed responsibility for the attack, while the Taliban has denied involvement.

fb, wd, sri/mm (AFP, AP, Reuters)