WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States has the capacity to evacuate the approximately 300 US citizens remaining in Afghanistan who plan to leave before President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline, senior Biden administration officials said, as another US Drone attack against suspected fighters of the Islamic State posed a serious threat in the last days of the war.
“This is the most dangerous time in an already extraordinarily dangerous mission in recent days,” said America’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken, shortly before the air strike in the capital, Kabul, was confirmed.
The flow of American evacuations kept pace, even when a new State Department security alert issued hours before the military action directed people to vacate the airport premises immediately “due to a specific, credible threat.”
Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that for those US citizens who want to leave Afghanistan immediately by the deadline that appears, “we have the capacity to get 300 Americans, which is roughly the number we think we have left, to the airport to be brought and picked up in airplanes in the remaining time. We moved out more than that number just yesterday. From our point of view, there is now the possibility for American citizens to come to the airport and be safely and effectively evacuated. “
Sullivan said the US does not currently plan to have a sustained embassy presence after the final withdrawal of US troops. But he promised that after Tuesday the US will “ensure there is safe passage for every American citizen, legal permanent residence” and “the Afghans who helped us.” But countless vulnerable Afghans fearful of a return to the brutality of pre-2001 Taliban rule are likely to be left behind.
Blinken said the US was working with other countries in the region to either keep Kabul airport open after Tuesday or to reopen it “on time”.
He also said that while the airport is critical, “there are other ways to get out of Afghanistan, including by road and many countries bordering Afghanistan.” The US, he said, “will ensure that after Tuesday we will have all the tools and resources necessary to facilitate the journey for those who want to leave Afghanistan.”
There are also about 280 others who have claimed to be Americans but have told the State Department that they want to stay in the country or are undecided. According to the latest information, around 114,000 people have been evacuated since the Taliban takeover on August 14, including around 2,900 on military and coalition flights during the 24 hours that end at 3 a.m. on Sunday.
Congressmen criticized the chaotic and violent evacuation.
“We didn’t have to be in that rush that terrorists are behind us,” said Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah. “But it is really the responsibility of the previous government and this government that brought this crisis on us and led to an undoubtedly humanitarian and foreign policy tragedy.”
Kentucky Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said US policy in Afghanistan had worked with 2,500 soldiers on the ground. “We held the lid open, stopped terrorists from rebuilding, and had a light footprint in the country,” he said.
US officials said the American drone strike hit a vehicle carrying several Islamic State suicide bombers, causing secondary explosions that indicated the presence of a significant amount of explosive material. A senior US official said the military drone fired a Hellfire missile at a vehicle in an area between two buildings after people were seen loading explosives in the trunk.
The official said there was an initial explosion caused by the missile, followed by a much larger fireball, believed to be due to the significant amount of explosives inside the vehicle. The US believes that two people belonging to the Islamic State Group who were targeted were killed. In a statement, US Central Command said it is investigating reports of civilian casualties that may have been caused by the secondary explosions. An Afghan official said three children were killed in the strike. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.
It was the second air strike in recent days that the US carried out against the militant group that took responsibility for Thursday’s suicide bombing at the gate of Kabul airport, in which 13 US soldiers and dozen Afghans were killed, who tried to leave the country and flee from the new Taliban rule. The Pentagon said a US drone mission to eastern Afghanistan killed two members of the ISIS branch in Afghanistan early Saturday local time in retaliation for the airport bombing.
In Delaware, Biden met privately with the families of the American troops killed in the suicide attack and watched solemnly as the remains of the fallen from Afghanistan returned to US soil. First Lady Jill Biden and many top US defense and military leaders joined him on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base to mourn with loved ones while the “dignified transfer” of the remains took place, a military ritual for the im Foreign fighting killed.
Sullivan previously said the US would continue its attacks on ISIS and consider “considering other operations to track down these guys, get them and get them off the battlefield.” He added: “We will continue to fight the terrorists in Afghanistan to ensure they do not pose a threat to the United States.
In a joint statement, the United States and around 100 other nations declared that they are committed to ensuring that their citizens, employees, Afghans and other vulnerable people can enter Afghanistan unhindered. The statement stated that the Taliban had given assurances that “all foreign nationals and all Afghan citizens with a travel permit from our countries may travel safely and in an orderly manner to places of departure and outside the country”.
The 13 soldiers were the first U.S. troops to be killed in Afghanistan since February 2020, 2021. Biden announced in April that the remaining 2,500 to 3,000 soldiers would be absent by September, ending what he called America’s Eternal War would.
With Biden’s approval, the Pentagon sent thousands of additional troops to Kabul Airport this month to ensure security and ease the State Department’s chaotic efforts to evacuate thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans who had helped the United States during the war. The evacuation was overshadowed by confusion and chaos when the US government was taken by surprise when the Afghan army collapsed and the Taliban came to power on August 15.
The White House has postponed Biden’s meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi from Monday to Wednesday as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan moves into its tense final hours.
Sullivan has appeared on CBS ‘Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, and Fox News Sunday. Blinken was interviewed for ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press”. McConnell was on Fox and Romney was on CNN.
Associate press writers Matthew Lee and Hope Yen in Washington and Aamer Madhani at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, contributed to this report.