A targeted U.S drone attack successfully wiped out a car full of “multiple suicide bombers” heading for the Kabul airport on Sunday, U.S. military sources confirmed to the Associated Press. The strike came a day after the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan issued an alarming security alert late Saturday, warning American citizens to stay away from the airport in Kabul due to a “specific, credible threat.” U.S. military officials did not say whether the specific threat still exists after the strike. Along with the suicide bombers, civilians were also killed, including at least one child, AP reports.
Any U.S. citizens near the Hamid Karzai International Airport “should leave the airport area immediately,” the embassy said in an advisory.
The warning, which was eerily similar to another one issued in the hours before Thursday’s devastating suicide bombing, came shortly after President Joe Biden warned of another “highly likely” attack within the next “24-36 hours” in Kabul, just as the Italians and British wrapped up their final civilian and troop evacuation, drawing allied flights to a close.
“The situation on the ground remains dangerous, and the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high,” Biden wrote in a statement Saturday. “I directed [military commanders] to take every possible measure to prioritize force protection, and ensured that they have all the authorities, resources, and plans to protect our men and women on the ground.
“They assured that they did, and that they could take these measures while completing the mission and safely retrograding our personnel.”
Evacuations will continue until Tuesday, the Biden administration’s planned withdrawal date. But fears of a retaliatory attack on any remaining civilians after an American drone reportedly took out the ISIS-K militant who planned Thursday’s deadly suicide bomb—and who is thought to have been planning more attacks—have left little hope for the desperate still waiting to be accepted for evacuation.
Making matters even more challenging, the Taliban reportedly beefed up security around the airport Saturday as the last flights departed, adding new checkpoints, often manned with U.S. military equipment confiscated from retreating Afghan troops, according to the Associated Press.
Nearly 170 Afghans and other nationals along with 13 U.S. servicemen were killed when a single suicide bomber imploded near the Abbey gate of the Kabul airport. Hundreds more were injured, some losing eyes or limbs from the powerful explosion.
All the while, evacuations continue including 6,800 of the last people to leave who were taken on final flights out of Kabul in the 24 hours to Saturday. More than 110,000 people have been evacuated through the airport since August 15, when the Taliban raised its flag over Kabul.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Saturday that 5,400 of the estimated 6,000 Americans who remained in Afghanistan on Aug. 14 have been evacuated.
The abrupt finalization of allied evacuations after the suicide bombing has left the U.S. military alone to essentially hand over the keys to the Taliban when they end their mission on Tuesday.
Over the weekend, all but a skeleton staff of diplomats will be left, making it even more difficult to process anyone who can somehow still get into the airport now that the gates are officially closed. A small group of people have been ferried in by special forces, according to CNN, but those operations are thought to be nearing an end.
On Saturday, British General Nick Carter told the BBC that pulling out sooner than they had planned had been disappointing. “We haven’t been able to bring everyone out, and that has been heartbreaking” he said. “And there have been some very challenging judgements that have had to be made on the ground.”
Those tough decisions include who among those who unequivocally qualify for evacuation to take on the last flights out of Kabul—and who to leave behind.
Almost all allied troops had planned to end their operations overnight Sunday, but after the deadly suicide bomb on Thursday, they hastened plans. Germany, which ended its operations after the deadly attack Thursday say they fell short by around 6,000 people they had identified for evacuation. The U.K. evacuated 14,000 but Carter said, “the sad fact is that not every single one will get out.” The U.K. is leaving more than 1,000 eligible Afghans they say “didn’t make it” onto flights.
Those left behind face dire circumstances ranging from an economic crisis after the international community froze assets in the Afghan central bank to a worsening drought that the World Food Program says will leave up to 14 million people—one in three Afghans—with food shortages this winter.
The French are flying their last missions out on Saturday night, but French Senator Nathalie Goulet told local reporters they are also leaving 1,000 eligible people behind. “They are going to be killed,” Goulet said of those who will remain. “It’s like a witch-hunting party. They are at the top of the list of the traitors of the Taliban because they have been working for a foreign army.”
The abrupt finale of what much of the world sees as a botched ending of a failed war has left little but remorse. “We left behind the people who trusted our country, it’s a disaster,” Goulet said, according to the Washington Post. “We will have blood on our hands.”