Military planes making evacuation runs into Kabul are dropping flares and carrying out nosedive combat landings amid fears that Islamic terrorists may try to shoot one down as Afghans trying to flee the Taliban have described at least 20 civilians being killed in the chaos.
US military planes are doing rapid diving combat landings to beat the threat of a missile attack, with video showing a French transport plane yesterday deploying flares designed to confuse heat-seeking technology which may have been stolen by Islamic State in Afghanistan.
Taliban forces controlling all access points to Hamid Karzai International Airport are not thought to be attempting to shoot down military aircraft during the Western evacuation effort, as such an action could trigger another American-led intervention in Afghanistan.
It is feared Islamic State in Afghanistan – also known as ISIS-K – could use stolen heat-seeking missiles to bring down a rescue plane carrying hundreds of refugees including women and children.
ISIS militants have been fighting the Taliban for the last six years as they attempt to annex their own piece of Afghanistan following the collapse of their caliphate in Syria and Iraq following Western airstrikes and raids targeting the terror group.
Afghans at Kabul airport have described seeing more than 15 people including a two-year-old girl shot and beaten to death by the Taliban or trampled to death in the melee as thousands of locals desperately try to escape the new regime. One family described night-time crowd surges outside the airport gates and people killed in the stampede as they pleaded: ‘We are trapped in a hell.’
A NATO official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters at least 20 people have been killed in the past seven days in and around Kabul airport during the evacuation effort. The British Ministry of Defence said seven Afghans had died while trying to flee the Taliban.
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey has said that more than 1,700 people have been airlifted out in the past 24 hours with the help of the Taliban, adding that the militants were marshalling people into separate UK and US evacuation queues.
However, Taliban militants surrounding Kabul airport fired in the air and used batons to beat back the crowds and make people line up in orderly queues on Sunday, witnesses said. The crude crowd-control methods, together with reports that Taliban gangs have marauded conquered territory to enslave female Afghans, fly in the face of the group’s stated claims to be going ‘moderate’.
Boris Johnson said he will convene G7 leaders on Tuesday for ‘urgent talks’ on the crisis, writing on Twitter: ‘It is vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years.’
Today he held talks with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who could become a key go-between in any diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and the west. No.10 today said the two leaders had agreed that the Taliban must ‘protect the rights of women and minorities’.
‘The leaders shared the view that any new government must be representative of Afghanistan’s diverse population and protect the rights of women and minorities, and that the Taliban would be judged by their actions not their words on this,’ a Downing Street spokesman said.
‘They agreed that countries must commit to burden-sharing on aid and refugees, noting that United Nations co-ordination would be central to that effort,’ the spokesman added.
The crisis in Afghanistan has strained relations between Britain and the US, with Tony Blair – who was in Downing Street when London sent troops into the Middle Eastern country 20 years ago following the 9/11 attacks – branding Joe Biden’s withdrawal of US troops ‘imbecilic’.
Cabinet insiders have suggested the President was ‘gaga’ and ‘doolally’ for withdrawing so quickly, while the Prime Minister has allegedly privately referred to Mr Biden as ‘Sleepy Joe’, the nickname coined by Donald Trump. Mr Johnson also allegedly remarked Britain ‘would be better off with Trump’ – allegations branded ‘categorically untrue’ by Downing Street.
Meanwhile, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, today said Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan has ‘given a huge boost to militant Islam everywhere’.
It comes as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, in what is likely to be read as a plea to Washington, said ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’ of Afghanistan, with the US President’s August 31 target date making the rescue mission even more time pressured.
Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul has been the focal point for thousands trying to flee the Taliban, who seized power after sweeping into the capital a week ago following their astonishing lightning advance across the Middle Eastern country.
One mother – a former interpreter – said her two-year-old daughter was trampled to death as the family attempted to get to the airport. The unnamed woman said the crowd surged as the family was thrown the ground, with other desperate escapees trampling them.
She couldn’t breathe and when she came to her feet she searched for her daughter, only to find the little girl dead. ‘I felt pure terror. I couldn’t save her,’ she told the New York Times.
Another Afghan woman called Sara, who asked for her real name not to be used, told the Observer how families with US visas, US passports and green cards were not able to reach their evacuation flights or get any information about their fate as the Taliban block all access points to Kabul airport.
Sara said: ‘It’s so scary here. There’s horror in everyone’s eyes. No one is allowed through, even with visas.
‘No one from the US is helping us. No one is telling us which gate to go to – we don’t even know when the US flights are leaving. There is violence everywhere but every gate we go to is closed and no one gives us any information or shows any mercy.’
A close family friend based in the US added: ‘The US have told them they can be evacuated, but only if they can get through an airport gate. But every day they have gone to the airport it’s been so crowded and violent, it’s not been possible to get the family through without a huge risk to their lives.’
Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Mr Wallace said: ‘If the US timetable remains, we have no time to lose to get the majority of the people waiting out. Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer, and they will have our complete support if they do.’
According to the Sunday Times, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who is facing calls to resign over his decision to remain on holiday while Afghanistan collapsed – is seeking to speak to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss extending the end-of-the-month deadline.
The 900 British troops cannot remain without the logistical support of the 6,000 US soldiers in Kabul and will have to finish the evacuation before that point to allow enough time to secure their own safe exit.
Mr Wallace confirmed there were ‘too many people in the airport’ on Saturday, forcing the US side of the operation to suspend access. A MoD spokeswoman stressed that neither UK flights nor processing were affected by the pause, however.
US citizens were yesterday warned not to go to the airport amid fears that they might be hijacked en route by militants. The State Department said the US side of the airport would close for 48 hours. The British section remained open.
Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan who has stayed in the capital to help process applications, said the rescue effort was ‘without a doubt the biggest international challenge I have worked on as a diplomat’.
Meanwhile, UK troops in Afghanistan have said they are facing challenges ‘nobody has experienced before’, as a former defence chief warned the Kabul airport evacuation is the ‘worst possible scenario’.
Lieutenant Colonel Baker, stationed at the passenger handling facility at Hamid Karzai airport, said: ‘I think this is something that nobody has really experienced before, so we are facing challenges that nobody has experience for.”
Former chief of the defence staff Lord Richards said UK forces securing the air strip are in a ‘very precarious situation’, with little protection from security threats posed by the likes of so-called Islamic State.
‘I’ve done a few of these non-combat evacuation operations in my time and this is the worst possible scenario, when you are unable to clear a space between the airhead and your possible threat, which is exactly what is happening now,” he told Times Radio.
‘They are right on top of people and we’ve seen the tragic scenes coming out of Kabul airport, so it is not a good situation.’
According to the MoD, 3,821 British and Afghan nationals have been evacuated from Kabul, where 1,000 British troops are based. About 3,500 people are still waiting to be airlifted.
Last night, an MoD source said the announcement about the refugee centres was intended to display ‘honesty’ about the thousands of British allies likely to be left behind.
While acknowledging that ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’, Mr Wallace also announces that a series of ‘processing hubs’ will be set up in countries neighbouring Afghanistan for refugees who manage to escape. If they can establish their right to come to the UK, they will be flown to Britain.
The MoD is looking at establishing hubs in countries such as Pakistan and Turkey – but, startlingly, is also exploring whether the Taliban might allow the UK to retain a ‘presence’ in Kabul after the Americans have gone.
In his article today, Mr Wallace says that the collapse of Afghanistan has been ‘an exhausting, worrying and demanding time’, and warns that ‘the distressing exit of the West will have consequences for us all for years to come’.
He says: ‘The Parachute Regiment at the airport are dealing with unimaginable challenges. Public order, overcrowding, searing heat and desperate people. Soldiers trained for war are instead holding babies and co-ordinating crowds.’
The Minister adds: ‘Too many people in the airport has meant a suspension of access. I am confident that too will be fixed or mitigated but until it is, the crowds will get bigger. And ticking along, impossible to stop, is time. I have said all along that no nation will be able to get everyone out.
‘It is a source of deep sadness for many of us across NATO and no one wanted 20 years of sacrifice to end this way. We will do our best to the very last moment. But it isn’t the end.
‘The Home Secretary and I have been planning the next stage… we will establish a series of processing hubs across the region outside of Afghanistan for those Afghans we have an obligation to bring to this country.’
It comes as former British premier Tony Blair blasted Mr Biden’s ‘imbecilic’ decision to withdraw American troops from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, calling the scuttle ‘tragic, dangerous and unnecessary’ and claiming the move had ‘every Jihadist group round the world cheering’.
Mr Blair, who was in Downing Street when London sent British troops into the Middle Eastern country 20 years ago following the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington – said Britain has a ‘moral obligation’ to stay until ‘all those who need to be are evacuated’.
In a 2,700 article on the threat of ‘radical Islam’, the former British prime minister said the exit was not in the West or Afghanistan’s interest as he lamented the likely reversal of gains made during the occupation, with the Taliban reasserting itself across most of the country in recent days.
Mr Blair issued a stark warning to Mr Johnson that the manner of the US’ handling of the exit indicated the UK could be relegated from the top division of international powers, with reports Britain was largely kept in the dark about when American armed forces would leave.
Mr Blair also claimed that ‘Russia, China and Iran will see and take advantage. Anyone given commitments by Western leaders will understandably regard them as unstable currency’.
Both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have suggested that Britain will now have to turn to Beijing and Moscow to assist with exercising a ‘moderating influence’ over the Taliban post-withdrawal.
‘For Britain, out of Europe and suffering the end of the Afghanistan mission by our greatest ally with little or no consultation, we have serious reflection to do,’ said Mr Blair.
‘We don’t see it yet, but we are at risk of relegation to the second division of global powers.’
Meanwhile, Biden today took criticism former US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, who served under Barack Obama. Mr Crocker, 72, said the chaotic withdrawal had given a ‘huge boost to militant Islam everywhere’.
In a stunning broadside, he said Mr Biden’s lack of strategic patience in Afghanistan has damaged alliances, emboldened enemies and increased the security risk to the West.
In an essay for the New York Times, Mr Crocker said of the withdrawal: ‘It has damaged our alliances, emboldened our adversaries and increased the risk to our own security.
‘It has also flouted 20 years of work and sacrifice.
‘The American disaster in Afghanistan that Mr Biden’s impatience brought about is not a disaster just for us. It has also been a huge boost for the Taliban, whose narrative now is that the believers, clad in the armour of the one true faith, have vanquished the infidels.
Mr Biden’s strategic impatience has given a huge boost to militant Islam everywhere.’
Meanwhile, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Home Secretary Priti Patel is scrambling to proscribe the Taliban as a terrorist group amid fears that hundreds of British jihadis will head to Afghanistan to join and live under the Islamist regime.
The Home Office is now looking urgently to ban the group which has avoided proscription so far, even though the Taliban has harboured terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and killed 456 British troops in Afghanistan over the past two decades.
If an organisation is on the Government’s list of proscribed groups, it becomes a criminal offence for anyone in Britain to join or even support it, punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
If the situation remains as it is, Ministers fear that British jihadis could join and train under the regime then escape prosecution on their return to Britain.
Sources have told the MoS that Ms Patel is ‘livid’ that the Taliban in Afghanistan has not been banned already. A source said last night: ‘The fault doesn’t lie with Priti. It goes far back, as no previous Home Secretary has bothered to ban it.’
A Government source told the MoS that MI5 and counter-terrorism units are preparing for the possibility of British jihadis travelling to Afghanistan.
‘Some will go and train under the Taliban and may come back to launch attacks,’ said the source. Others may take their families with them and live under the Taliban’s Islamic government.’
Britain has promised to evacuate about 6,000 UK citizens and Afghan staff from the country, but that is looking increasingly unlikely.
Yesterday, amid chaotic scenes, Britons were told to either go to Kabul airport or the nearby Baron Hotel, where their papers could be processed. But some found their path blocked by makeshift Taliban checkpoints.
Last night, a Briton and his wife told how they came under fire from Taliban militants at a checkpoint as they headed to the hotel. Their driver was injured in the shooting.
As the British man tried to explain to the militants that he was a foreign national he was beaten and threatened.
He told ITV News: ‘My wife came out of the car, she was trying to save me and then they start beating my wife as well. They are warning me that if they see me next to that checkpoint they will kill us.’
It comes as yesterday the US Embassy told citizens not to travel to the Kabul airport without ‘individual instructions from a US government representative,’ citing potential security threats outside its gates.
And yet crowds remained outside its concrete barriers, clutching documents and sometimes stunned-looking children, blocked from flight by coils of razor wire.
Footage has since emerged of pandemonium and violence outside the airport, with US officials reporting that Americans have been beaten by the Taliban as they’ve tried to reach safety. The White House earlier confirmed that three military helicopters were used to rescue 169 Americans who were trapped at a hotel near the airport.
Meanwhile, Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar arrived in the Afghan capital yesterday for talks with militant commanders, former government leaders and religious scholars.
Nato yesterday begged Mr Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US troops to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: ‘The US has stated that the timeline ends on August 31, but several of our allies raised… the need to potentially extend that to be able to get more people out.’
Meanwhile, pressure continues to grow on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab after new claims emerged accusing him of failing to engage with foreign counterparts on the Afghanistan situation until the Taliban had reached Kabul.
Witnesses told the Times that the Cabinet minister was swimming and using a paddleboard on the last day of his break, which was spent at a beach at a five-star hotel on the Greek island of Crete, as the crisis began to unfold.
Mr Raab was already in the firing line after it emerged he delegated a call about repatriating Afghan interpreters, while away on August 13, to a junior minister, a decision that resulted in the phone conversation with the Afghan foreign minister not taking place and possibly delaying taking them to safety.
And last night he was plunged into a fresh row over his holiday after sources told the Mail on Sunday that he had refused an order by No.10 to return from the Mediterranean to deal with the Afghanistan crisis.
The sources said Mr Raab had been told by a senior Downing Street official on Friday 13th August that he should return to London immediately as the situation in Kabul deteriorated, and that there had been ‘much gnashing of teeth’ when he delayed his homecoming until the early hours of Monday morning.
The claim is strongly denied by friends of Mr Raab, who insist that he was assured by Boris Johnson that he could stay with his family until the end of the weekend.
A source said: ‘There is no doubt that Raab was told to come back on that Friday.
‘There was then a significant amount of surprise when he appeared on the Cobra on the Sunday down the line from Crete.
‘He must have nobbled Boris and asked for permission to finish his holiday’.
Last night, Mr Raab told the Mail on Sunday that he had enjoyed a ‘wave of support’, and denied that there was pressure from within his party to resign.
Mr Raab said: ‘I’ve not heard any of my Conservative colleagues call for me to resign, but I have had a wave of support.
‘There is no doubt that, like all countries, there is a measure of surprise at the rapidity of the Taliban takeover.
‘But as the Foreign Secretary travelling around the world, whether I am on leave or I’m travelling for work purposes, I am always set up to be able to grip things’.
A close ally of Mr Raab insisted that No.10 had not ‘ordered’ him to return on the Friday.
The ally said: ‘The suggestion was that he should make plans to come back.
‘They said that if things get worse then he needed to be ready to come back at a moment’s notice.
‘He then talked it through with the PM and it was agreed that he would came back on Sunday’.
Source : Daily Mail : Military planes evacuating Afghans drop flares and make ‘diving combat landings’ amid fears of ISIS missile attacks as TWENTY die including girl, two, at Kabul airport in stampede to escape Taliban before US lifeline ends