Afghanistan crisis updates | August 29, 2021

U.S. says drone kills suicide bombers targeting Kabul airport

U.S. President Joe Biden vowed on August 26 to complete the evacuation of American citizens and others from Afghanistan despite a deadly suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport. He also promised to avenge the deaths, declaring to the extremists responsible: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.” After he declared to avenge the deaths, the United States, as a sign of retaliation, took aim at the Islamic State group in Afghanistan on August 28, killing two high-level targets. On August 29, President Joe Biden warned that another terrorist attack on the Kabul airport is “highly likely” in the next 24 to 36 hours.

Here are the latest developments:

Drone strike comes as the U.S. winds down a historic airlift

A U.S. drone strike Sunday struck a vehicle carrying “multiple suicide bombers” from Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate before they could target the ongoing military evacuation at Kabul’s international airport, American officials said.

There were few initial details about the incident, as well as a rocket that struck a neighbourhood just northwest of the airport, killing a child. The Taliban initially described the two strikes as separate incidents, though information on both remained scarce and witnesses heard only one large blast Sunday in the Afghan capital.

The airstrike came as the United States winds down a historic airlift that saw tens of thousands evacuated from Kabul’s international airport, the scene of much of the chaos that engulfed the Afghan capital since the Taliban took over two weeks ago. After an Islamic State affiliate’s suicide attack that killed over 180 people, the Taliban increased its security around the airfield as Britain ended its evacuation flights Saturday.

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Rocket hits near Kabul airport, kills child

An Afghan police chief says a rocket has struck a neighborhood northwest of Kabul’s international airport amid the U.S. evacuation there, killing a child.

Rashid, the Kabul police chief who goes by one name, says the rocket struck Sunday afternoon.

No group immediately claimed the attack. – AP

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Biden honours U.S. troops killed in Kabul

President Joe Biden met in solemn privacy on Sunday with the families of the 13 U.S. troops killed in the suicide attack near the Kabul airport as the remains of their loved ones returned to U.S. soil from Afghanistan.

First lady Jill Biden joined the president at Dover Air Force Base to grieve with loved ones as the “dignified transfer” of remains unfolded, a military ritual for those killed in foreign combat.

The dead ranged in age from 20 to 31, and came from California and Massachusetts and states in between. They include a 20-year-old Marine from Wyoming who had been expecting his first child in three weeks and a 22-year-old Navy corpsman who in his last FaceTime conversation with his mother assured her that he would stay safe because “my guys got me.”

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Slain Marine who cradled baby at Kabul airport loved her job

A woman who cradled a baby in her arms at the airport and posted on social media that she loved her job. A young husband with a child on the way. Another man who always wanted to be in the military. A man who planned to become a sheriff’s deputy when his deployment ended. Heart-wrenching details have emerged about some of the 13 U.S. troops killed in a horrific suicide bombing at Afghanistan’s Kabul airport, which also claimed the lives of more than 160 Afghans.

Eleven Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier were among the dead, while 18 other U.S. service members were wounded in Thursday’s bombing, which was blamed on Afghanistan’s offshoot of the Islamic State group. The U.S. said it was the most lethal day for American forces in Afghanistan since 2011.

Here are the stories of the victims killed and the people who are mourning them:

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Turkish President Erdogan signals willingness to develop Afghanistan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled his willingness to help the Taliban develop Afghanistan.

Citing Turkey’s experience in large-scale construction and infrastructure projects, he said: “We want to help on this point … But to help, the doors need to be opened. That’s why our intelligence (agency) is currently meeting Taliban representatives.” Speaking to journalists on a return flight from Montenegro, Erdogan stressed the importance of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and ex-Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who led talks with the Taliban. Both men remained in Kabul after its fall two weeks ago.

He said the Taliban’s “reformist approach” to issues such as women’s rights would be taken into consideration in any future negotiations. – AP

Afghan athletes arrive for Paralympics; to be mostly out of sight

Afghan athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli have arrived in Tokyo, via what’s been described as a harrowing journey from Kabul to Paris, to compete in the Paralympics.

For now, they are sequestered in the Paralympics Village alongside Tokyo Bay, will not be available for media interviews during their stay — before or after they compete. And where they go after the Games close on Sept. 5 is unclear.

The International Paralympic Committee said they arrived in Tokyo from Paris early on Saturday evening, having passed all the required COVID-19 tests to enter Japan. IPC spokesman Craig Spence said they’d need a few days to get their bearing and needed some privacy.

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Taliban kills Afghan folk singer in restive province

A Taliban fighter shot dead an Afghan folk singer in a restive mountain province under unclear circumstances, his family said on August 29. The killing reignited concerns among activists that the insurgents would return to their oppressive rule in the country after their military blitz toppled the government.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AP  that the insurgents would investigate the incident, but had no other details on the killing. – PTI

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Educators call on Taliban not to replace system

Former officials and lecturers at Afghanistan universities have called on the Taliban to maintain and upgrade the country’s education system instead of creating a new one.

Former Minister of higher education Abas Basir said on August 29 at a conference on higher education held by the Taliban that starting over is a mistake made by previous governments. He said, “Lets not reject everything, starting a new system, we should work more on what we already have.” Taliban caretaker higher education minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani criticised the current education system founded by the international community, saying that religious education was considered insignificant. – PTI

Boris Johnson defends Kabul airlift as criticism grows

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended Britain’s airlift out of Kabul on August 29 and praised the troops for their mission after criticism grew that the government had been "asleep on watch" in Afghanistan.

Britain’s last military flight left Kabul late on August 28, ending a chaotic two weeks in which soldiers helped to evacuate more than 15,000 people from the crowds who descended on the capital’s airport, desperate to flee the Taliban. Johnson said Britain would not have wished to leave Afghanistan in this manner following its near 20-year presence there, but he said the armed forces should be proud of their achievements none the less.

"I thank everyone involved, and I believe they can be very proud of what they’ve done," he said in a video online. – Reuters

Veteran Afghan strongmen to form new front for negotiating with Taliban

A band of veteran Afghan leaders, including two regional strongmen, are angling for talks with the Taliban and plan to meet within weeks to form a new front for holding negotiations on the country’s next government, a member of a group said.

Khalid Noor, son of Atta Mohammad Noor, the once-powerful governor of northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province, said the group comprised of veteran ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum and others are opposed to the Taliban’s takeover.

"We prefer to negotiate collectively, because it is not that the problem of Afghanistan will be solved just by one of us," Khalid Noor, told Reuters in an interview from an undisclosed location. – Reuters

Last UK troops from Afghanistan land in UK

Military planes carrying British troops and diplomats from Kabul are landing at a UK air base after the U.K.’s two-week evacuation operation ended.

The U.K. ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, was among those who arrived on August 29 at RAF Brize Norton northwest of London, hours after the government announced that all British personnel had left Kabul.

Britain says it has evacuated more than 15,000 U.K. citizens and vulnerable Afghans in the past two weeks but that as many as 1,100 Afghans who were entitled to come to the U.K. have been left behind. – PTI

Venice Film Festival announces Afghan directors panel to discuss Taliban takeover

The Venice International Film Festival has invited Afghan filmmakers Sahraa Karimi and Sahra Mani to talk about the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan with "particular attention to the situation of filmmakers and artists" since the hardline religious group seized control of the country.

The 78th edition of the movie gala, also called La Biennale di Venezia, will be held on the Lido from September 1 to 11.

According to Biennale’s official website, the panel will take place September 4 at 3 p.m. at the Palazzo del Casino (Lido of Venice), in the Press Conference Room. – PTI

U.S. in final phase of evacuations from Kabul, Taliban says ready to take over airport

U.S. forces are in the final phase of leaving Kabul, ending two decades of involvement in Afghanistan,and just over 1,000 civilians at the airport remain to be flown out before troops withdraw, a Western security official said on August 29.

The country’s new Taliban rulers are prepared to take control of the airport, said an official from the hardline Islamist movement that has swept cross Afghanistan, crushing the U.S. backed government. The Western security official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters a date and time for the end of the operation was yet to be decided.

President Joe Biden said he will stick by his deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by August 31, 20 years after they invaded Kabul and ousted the Taliban government for shielding the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 attacks. – Reuters

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How an Instagram star helped rescue dozens from Afghanistan

Dozens of desperate Afghans who had been trying to flee the Taliban before the August 31 deadline for the U.S. withdrawal from Kabul made it to safety with help from an unexpected place — Instagram influencer Quentin Quarantino. Quentin Quarantino is the alter ego of 25-year-old Tommy Marcus of New York City, previously best-known for his liberal memes and his jokes about opponents of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Along with his followers, Mr. Marcus raised $7 million within days on GoFundMe to launch rescue missions into Afghanistan to evacuate as many people as possible, many of whom said they had been threatened by the Taliban.

On August 25, their mission ‘Operation Flyaway’ helped ferry 51 people from Afghanistan to Uganda on a privately chartered plane financed by the GoFundMe campaign. – PTI

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U.S. believes new attack on Kabul airport ‘highly likely’ in 24-36 hours: President Biden

President Joe Biden said that a retaliatory drone strike he ordered to be carried out against the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan would not be his “last” response to the group for carrying out a deadly attack against U.S. troops and Afghan civilians near the Kabul airport.

Biden said in a statement on August 28 that he discussed the strike with top military commanders, who briefed him on the ongoing evacuation of Afghans and U.S. citizens from the airport, which is set to wind down on August 31. The President said commanders told him that another attack “is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours.” Two IS members were killed and another was wounded in the drone strike in the early hours of August 28 in eastern Afghanistan. – PTI

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