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Joe Biden’s withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan has been labelled a ‘strategic disaster of very significant proportions’ by MPs after evacuation efforts were rocked by a suspected terrorist attack this afternoon.
Multiple people have been killed in at least two explosions near Kabul airport after UK ministers warned this morning that there was ‘very credible reporting’ of an ‘imminent’ attack in the area.
The deteriorating security situation in the capital has prompted calls for the UK to consider pulling out its remaining troops amid fears airlifts will have to stop.
One Tory MP criticised Mr Biden’s handling of the withdrawal and his decision to stick to his August 31 exit date, telling MailOnline ‘this is a strategic disaster of very significant proportions’ and ‘there is always going to be chaos when you’re leaving somewhere on a forced deadline’.
They said: ‘The question is, did it have to be a collapsing state? No, it didn’t have to be but we chose to leave and we chose to abandon 20 years of work.’
They added: ‘If people can’t get into the airport anymore and if it is thought that it is only a matter of time before our troops become the target, then obviously people are going to have be rethinking what is happening.’
A Labour MP said they were ‘furious’ with Mr Biden and claimed he had been ‘too cowardly’ to challenge Donald Trump’s initial deal with the Taliban which committed US forces to leaving the country.
Meanwhile, Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: ‘The attack on innocent people at Kabul airport simply trying to escape the horror of Taliban rule shows exactly who the group has brought with them.
‘The pattern is well established – from Nigeria and Mali to Syria and Iraq, whenever Islamist extremists take power, terror follows.’
Downing Street said Boris Johnson had been updated on the situation at the airport and he would be chairing a meeting of the CPBRA emergency committee.
The Pentagon confirmed two blasts occurred in a ‘complex attack’ outside Hamid Karzai International Airport and there were ‘a number of US and civilian casualties’.
The Ministry of Defence said there had been no UK military or Government casualties reported at an early stage.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said at least 13 people were killed and 15 wounded in twin suicide attacks outside the airport, which has been the centre of the effort to help people flee Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Defence did not confirm or deny whether Isis-K was believed to be behind the explosions, after earlier warnings about the affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Afghanistan.
But an anonymous US official said the blasts were ‘definitely believed to be’ carried out by IS.
Joe Biden’s withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan has been labelled a ‘strategic disaster of very significant proportions’ by MPs
The blast took place near the Baron Hotel at the Abbey Gate of the airport where huge crowds had gathered in an attempt to enter the airport
This afternoon’s explosions came after Mr Johnson had warned that time was running out to rescue people from Afghanistan ahead of Mr Biden’s exit date.
The Prime Minister had said at lunchtime that the UK will continue with airlifts ‘for as long as we can’ and insisted ‘we have got the overwhelming majority’ of eligible people out.
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey this morning delivered the stark admission that the UK will not be able to rescue everyone who is eligible.
Mr Heappey said the ‘window of opportunity to evacuate people is closing’ and ‘there will be people on your TV screens over the weekend that have been left behind’.
The UK was due to run 11 evacuation flights today but Mr Heappey would not be drawn on whether there will be more tomorrow.
Mr Biden rejected calls from Mr Johnson and other NATO allies to push back his withdrawal deadline to provide more time for the humanitarian airlifts.
The UK is scrambling to get as many eligible people out of the country as possible amid fears those who worked for Britain could face reprisals under the new Taliban regime.
Speaking during a visit to Permanent Joint Headquarters in north London, where he met military personnel involved in the evacuation efforts, Mr Johnson said: ‘We will keep going obviously for as long as we can and I think what people should also understand is what an incredible achievement this has been by the UK military just in the last 10 days or so.’
He continued: ‘We have got the overwhelming majority of those to whom we owe that debt out of Afghanistan as I stand and talk to you now.
‘In the time we have left, which may be, as I am sure everybody can appreciate, quite short we will do everything we can to get everybody else.
The Prime Minister today visited the British Armed Forces Permanent Joint Headquarters, in Eastbury, northwest of London
What is ISIS-K?
ISIS-K is one of six or seven regional offshoots of the Islamic State – the K stands for the Khorasan region, which historically encompasses parts of modern day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
ISIS-K was begun in 2014, as a splinter group from the Pakistani Taliban, and its original leaders were from Pakistan.
In 2015 it was recognized by ISIS’s leaders in Iraq and Syria, and in January 2016 declared a terrorist organization by the State Department.
Its strongholds are eastern Afghanistan, straddling the border with Pakistan in Nangarhar province, and the north of Afghanistan.
In 2018 the group was weakened in the north of Afghanistan, and in 2019 severely beaten back in the east. But in 2020 they regrouped and launched a series of devastating terror attacks.
‘But I want to stress that this is just the first phase so even beyond the US deadline of the 31st of this month we hope to continue to be able to say to people well, you can come out and one of the key things that we are saying to the Taliban… is to engage with the West, to unlock those funds, safe passage for those who want to come out is obviously the number one condition.’
Mr Heappey had earlier warned there is ‘very credible reporting’ of an ‘imminent’ and ‘severe’ threat to Kabul airport.
He called on those queuing outside Hamid Karzai International Airport to move to safety amid concerns over an affiliate of the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan, known as Isis-K.
He said the intelligence on a potential terrorist attack was now ‘much firmer’, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There is now very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack and hence why the Foreign Office advice was changed last night that people should not come to Kabul airport, they should move to a safe place and await further instructions.’
America, Britain and Australia all issued instructions to their citizens in the early hours of this morning to immediately leave the area around the airport because of fears of a deadly attack.
Many Afghans who have been told to stay away from the transport hub are now flocking to Pakistan and Iran in a bid to escape after the UK told them to head to the border.
However, a Western diplomat in Kabul said areas outside the airport gates were still ‘incredibly crowded’ despite the warnings.
Some countries have already announced they are ending their airlift operations from today.
Mr Heappey conceded this morning that some people will be left behind as time runs out and the rescue flights stop.
Praising the bravery of UK armed forces personnel, he told LBC Radio: ‘They are heroes and we should all be really proud of them. They have brought out 12,279 people up to 6am this morning and they have done that in 11 days from a standing start.
Planes are lined up at Kabul international airport today as the rescue mission to evacuate thousands is still ongoing ahead of the August 31 deadline
The UK is scrambling to get as many eligible people out of the country as possible amid fears those who worked for NATO forces could face reprisals from the Taliban
‘We won’t get everybody out. There will be people on your TV screens over the weekend that have been left behind.
‘But absolutely none of the paras, the pilots, anybody who has been involved in this mission should look at those TV pictures and see it as a personal reflection of their endeavours over the last few days.
‘The reality is is that we have brought out 5,000 people, already more than we thought we needed to bring out when we started this mission. It is the most remarkable effort.’
Ministers have not set out the deadline for the departure of British troops from Kabul but they are expected to have to pack up and leave ahead of the Americans.
Mr Heappey would not be drawn on how much time is left for evacuations as he said: ‘Eleven more flights today. I am afraid that what I am not going to be able to do today or any of my colleagues do in subsequent days until this operation is over and all British troops are out of the country is to discuss with you in any detail the timeline before the key events happen.’
Of the 12,279 people who the UK has helped flee the Taliban since August 13 when the group was on its march back to power, some 1,988 were extracted yesterday.
On Wednesday, it was estimated that nearly 2,000 people eligible under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) remained on the ground.
But Mr Heappey said the number outstanding has now dropped to ‘potentially half’ that.
A South Korean Air Force KC-330 Cygnus multirole tanker-transport aircraft carrying Afghan evacuees is pictured today landing at Incheon airport, west of Seoul, as evacuation efforts continue
Arap is designed to help those Afghans, such as interpreters, who helped the UK forces and who are therefore at a heightened risk of persecution by the Taliban.
Embassy staff and British nationals are also being evacuated, as are some from allied countries.
An unidentified number of ‘special cases’ may be eligible for evacuation, such as LGBTQ advocates, judges and human rights activists.
The Taliban has said it is ‘not in favour of allowing Afghans to leave’ after the August 31 deadline amid reports the group has already launched a crackdown.
Source: Daily Mail