Witness - Several appear dead or wounded in Kabul blast

AP , AFP , Thursday 26 Aug 2021

The British, French and Danish militaries had given stark warnings about the security situation at the Kabul airport

US Soldier in Kabul airport
This handout photo courtesy ot the US Army shows a medical officer assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division speaks with an Afghan woman and helps her with her child as part of the ongoing non-combatant evacuation of US civilian personnel, Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and other at-risk individuals from Afghanistan from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, August 25, 2021. AFP

An explosion went off Thursday outside Kabul's airport, where thousands of people have flocked as they try to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Officials offered no casualty count, but a witness said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded.

Western nations had warned earlier in the day of a possible attack at the airport in the waning days of a massive airlift. Suspicion for any attack targeting the crowds would likely fall on the Islamic State group and not the Taliban, who have been deployed at the airport's gates trying to control the mass of people.

The Pentagon confirmed the blast, with no immediate word on casualties.

Adam Khan, an Afghan waiting outside the airport, said the explosion went off in a crowd of people waiting to enter the airport. Khan, who said he was standing about 30 meters (yards) away, said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who lost body parts.

Several countries urged people to avoid the airport earlier in the day, with one saying there was a threat of a suicide bombing. But just days _ or even hours for some nations _ before the evacuation effort ends, few appeared to heed the call.

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BERLIN _ Germany's defense minister says terror threats in Kabul have become ``significantly more concrete'' as the international evacuation effort from the airport in the Afghan capital is nearing its end.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Thursday that the effort is ``now in what is certainly the most hectic, dangerous and sensitive phase. We know that the terror threats have intensified massively and that they have become significantly more concrete.''

She said Germany's foreign ministry told people in Kabul overnight that they should not try to get to the airport on their own, in line with warnings by the U.S. and others.

The German military was still flying between Kabul and Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Thursday. It wasn't immediately clear when exactly the German evacuation effort would end.

Germany's top military commander, Gen. Eberhard Zorn, said that as of Thursday afternoon German flights had evacuated some 5,200 people from 45 nations, including about 4,200 Afghans.

Zorn said two small German helicopters that were flown into Kabul a few days ago, intended to help get individuals to the airport, were flown out to Tashkent overnight.

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Qatar says it has helped the evacuation of more than 40,000 people from Kabul airport.
 
The small nation on the Arabian Peninsula says most will transit through Qatar after staying in temporary accommodations.
 
Qatar says that ``the evacuation efforts will continue in the coming days in consultation with international partners.''
 
Qatar also hosts an office of the Taliban and was the site of negotiations between America, the toppled Afghan government and the insurgents.
 
Qatar arrival
Qatar arrival
This handout photo courtesy ot the US Air Force shows airmen assisting Afghanistan evacuees onto a shuttle, August 23, 2021, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. AP
 
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India says it has evacuated most of its nationals from Afghanistan and is doing everything to bring them back home.
 
India's External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told a meeting of political leaders on Thursday that India has operated six flights so far from Kabul after a stunning takeover by the Taliban. ``A few of them (Indians) are still there.''
 
He didn't give the exact number of Indians and Afghans evacuated so far from Kabul but the Indian media put their numbers around 800.
 
He declined to say how India is going to deal with the Taliban government in Afghanistan. ``The situation in Afghanistan is yet to settle down. I will talk about it later,'' Jaishankar told reporters.
 
New Delhi had stayed away from the Taliban except for back-channel contacts in recent months. It didn't recognize the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
 
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France will fully end its operation to evacuate French nationals and Afghans in danger from Taliban-controlled Kabul by Friday evening, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

Beyond this date, "it will not be possible to carry out evacuations from Kabul airport," Castex told RTL radio Thursday. A source close to the government added that the date had been enforced by the plan of the United States, which is providing security at the airport, to pull out by August 31.

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Pakistan's prime minister has called on the international community to continue engagement with Afghanistan, saying it was a ``way forward to avert any humanitarian crisis and secure peace and stability.``

Imran Khan made his comment during a meeting with David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program who met with him in Islamabad. Khan also called for the formation of an inclusive government to ensure peace and avoid an humanitarian crisis, after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.

The latest development comes as dozens of Afghans continue to enter Pakistan via its land borders. But the number of Afghan people entering Pakistan through land routes has been steadily decreasing since earlier this week.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary _ Hungary says its army has evacuated all Hungarian citizens from Afghanistan of which the defense ministry is aware.

Defense Minister Tibor Benko told a press conference on Thursday that 540 people, among them 57 Afghan families including 180 children, had been evacuated to Hungary from Kabul.

Of the Afghan citizens who assisted Hungarian forces in Afghanistan since 2003, the army has evacuated 87%, he said, adding that Hungarian, Afghan, Austrian and U.S. citizens were evacuated during the operation.

All of the nearly 100 Hungarian soldiers that participated in the evacuation operation have returned to Hungary, Benko said. No injuries occurred during the evacuation operations, though there were Afghan citizens who sustained injuries prior to their evacuation, he said.

Seven Hungarian soldiers were killed during military operations in Afghanistan since 2003, Benko said.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands _ The Dutch government says it is pulling its troops and diplomats out of the Kabul airport over the security situation.

In a letter to parliament Thursday, the foreign and defense ministers say that ``the Netherlands has been told by the United States to leave today and will most likely carry out its last flight later today.''

They add that ``in light of the extremely quickly deteriorating situation in and around the airport, evacuees can no longer be assisted by the Netherlands to get access to the airport.''

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LONDON _ The British, French and Danish militaries have given stark warnings about the security situation at the Kabul airport, where Afghan civilians are scrambling to evacuate ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline for foreign troops to leave Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told the BBC on Thursday there was ''very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack'' at the airport. Other warnings emerged about a possible threat from Afghanistan's Islamic State affiliate, which likely has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban freeing prisoners across the country.

Heappey conceded that people are desperate to leave and ``there is an appetite by many in the queue to take their chances, but the reporting of this threat is very credible indeed and there is a real imminence to it.''

French Prime Minister Jean Castex told French radio RTL on Thursday that ``from tomorrow evening onwards, we are not able to evacuate people from the Kabul airport'' due to the Aug. 31 American withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Danish defense minister Trine Bramsen bluntly warned: ``It is no longer safe to fly in or out of Kabul.'' Denmark's last flight, carrying 90 people plus soldiers and diplomats, already had left Kabul.

Poland and Belgium have already ended their evacuations from Afghanistan.

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BERLIN _ The German army says it has sent another military transport plane to Kabul to evacuate further people from the Afghan capital.

The army tweeted that the plane departed from Tashkent Thursday morning.

Altogether, the German army, or Bundeswehr, has airlifted 5,193 people out of Kabul, 539 of those on Wednesday.

The defense ministry tweeted that, ``We could already help many. We will evacuate until the last second.''

Government officials have not said when exactly the German evacuation mission is going to end but it is expected that the country will stop evacuating people with military planes ahead of the Americans' pullout date of August 31.

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WARSAW, Poland -- Poland's prime minister said that the country has evacuated over 900 Afghan citizens, as the country prepared to end its evacuation mission later Thursday.

``The evacuation action from Afghanistan ends today,'' said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at a news conference in Warsaw.

Another government official, Michal Dworczyk, said that a total of 44 flights were made transporting over 1,100 people. More than 900 of them are Afghans who have cooperated with Poland for years. He said the last transport with civilians from Afghanistan would land in Poland on Thursday morning.

The Afghan ambassador to Poland, Tahir Qadiry, also spoke at the news conference, expressing his thanks to the Polish government and the Polish people and voicing hope that the evacuated Afghan citizens will be able to return home one day.

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ISTANBUL _ Turkish civilian technicians could help operate Kabul airport after the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan, a senior Turkish official said Thursday.

Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said talks with the Taliban were underway to determine the operation of Hamid Karzai International Airport.

``We can continue the operation of the airport there even after our troops withdraw,'' Kalin told broadcaster NTV. ``Our civilian experts can provide support for the airport and negotiations regarding this are continuing.''

Turkey announced its troops had begun to leave Kabul, where they have been helping guard the airport, on Wednesday evening. Kalin said the troop withdrawal would be completed within 36 hours.

Prior to the Taliban taking Kabul on Aug. 15, NATO member Turkey had offered to secure and operate the airport following the U.S. withdrawal.

 India says most of its nationals evacuated
 
India says it has evacuated most of its nationals from Afghanistan and is doing everything to bring them back home.
 
India's External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told a meeting of political leaders on Thursday that India has operated six flights so far from Kabul after a stunning takeover by the Taliban. ``A few of them (Indians) are still there.''
 
He didn't give the exact number of Indians and Afghans evacuated so far from Kabul but the Indian media put their numbers around 800.
 
He declined to say how India is going to deal with the Taliban government in Afghanistan. ``The situation in Afghanistan is yet to settle down. I will talk about it later,'' Jaishankar told reporters.
 
New Delhi had stayed away from the Taliban except for back-channel contacts in recent months. It didn't recognize the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
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