Last US Planes Out of Kabul, Taliban Says
A U.S military aircraft takes off from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)
By Jack Gournell | Monday, 30 August 2021 04:18 PM
The last American military aircraft have departed Kabul airport, leaving the Taliban in control of the airport, reporter TRT World reporter Ali Mustafa tweeted Monday afternoon, quoting a Taliban commander.
"Taliban commander: last US military planes – four in all – have departed from Kabul airport – airport is now under Taliban control," Mustafa's tweet read.
Fox News' Jennifer Griffin reported she had confimed the news with multiple official sources inside the U.S. government.
The Pentagon had remained tight-lipped about final operations and had not specified when the withdrawal will be completed ahead of Tuesday's deadline. But spokesman John Kirby told reporters “there is still time” for Americans to join a massive airlift that has allowed more than 116,000 people to leave since the Taliban swept back into power two weeks ago.
All day Monday, U.S. military cargo jets came and went despite the rocket attack, which did not hurt anyone. The Taliban released a video shot from the airport's grounds, saying the Americans had removed or destroyed most of their equipment and that troop numbers were far lower. “It looks like today will be the last day,” one of the unidentified fighters said.
With the departure of the last of its troops, the U.S. is ending its 20-year war with the Taliban back in power. Many Afghans remain fearful of them or further instability, and there have been sporadic reports of killings and other abuses in areas under Taliban control despite pledges to restore peace and security.
In the last 24 hours, the American military evacuated about 1,200 people on 26 C-17 flights, while two coalition flights flew out 50 others, the White House said.
The two-week airlift has brought scenes of desperation and horror. In the early days, people desperate to flee Taliban rule flooded onto the tarmac and some fell to their deaths after clinging to a departing aircraft. On Thursday, an Islamic State suicide attack at an airport gate killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.
The extremist group is far more radical than the Taliban, who captured most of Afghanistan in a matter of days. The two groups have fought each other before, and the Taliban have pledged to not harbor terrorist groups.
The Taliban tightened their security cordon around the airport after the attack, clearing away massive crowds of Afghans who were desperate to flee the country in the waning days of the U.S.-led airlift. Taliban fighters are now stationed along a fence near the main runway.
Planes took off about every 20 minutes at one point Monday morning. One C-17 landing in the afternoon shot off flares as it approached — a maneuver to protect against heat-seeking missiles and a sign the U.S. military remains concerned about surface-to-air missiles loose in the country.
Smoke from several fires along the airport's perimeter could be seen. It wasn't clear what was ablaze, although U.S. forces typically destroy material and equipment they don't take with them.
The airport had been one of the few ways out for foreigners and Afghans fleeing the Taliban. However, coalition nations have halted their evacuations in recent days, leaving the U.S. military largely alone there with some remaining allied Afghan forces.
The U.S. State Department released a statement Sunday signed by about 100 countries, as well as NATO and the European Union, saying they had received “assurances” from the Taliban that people with travel documents would still be able to leave.
The Taliban have said they will allow normal travel after the U.S. withdrawal is completed on Tuesday and they take control of the airport. However, it is unclear how the militants will run the airport and which commercial carriers will begin flying in, given the ongoing security concerns.
Qatar confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday that the Gulf country has been taking part in negotiations about operations at the airport with Afghan and international parties, mainly the U.S. and Turkey. Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwa al-Khater said its main priority is restoring regular operations while maintaining security at the airport. Qatar is a U.S. ally that has long hosted a Taliban political office.
The Taliban have honored a pledge not to attack Western forces so long as they evacuate by Tuesday, but IS remains a threat.
The U.S. carried out a drone strike Saturday that it said killed two IS members. American officials said a U.S. drone strike on Sunday blew up a vehicle carrying IS suicide bombers who were planning to attack the airport.
Relatives of those killed in Sunday's strike disputed that account, saying it killed civilians who had nothing to do with the extremist group.
Najibullah Ismailzada said his brother-in-law, Zemarai Ahmadi, 38, had just arrived home from his job working with a Korean charity. As he drove into the garage, his children came out to greet him, and that's when the missile struck.
“We lost 10 members of our family,” Ismailzada said, including six children raging in age from 2 to 8. He said another relative, Naser Nejrabi, who was a former soldier in the Afghan army and a former interpreter for the U.S. military in his mid-20s, also was killed, along with two teenagers.
U.S. officials have acknowledged the reports of civilian casualties without confirming them.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. military takes steps to avoid civilian casualties when carrying out targeted strikes. “Of course, the loss of life from anywhere is horrible, and it impacts families no matter where they’re living, in the United States or around the world,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.