No way out: Afghans flee to the border as Kabul airport closes

No way out: Afghans flee to the border as Kabul airport closes – but Taliban won’t let anyone through crossings and neighbouring countries send those who make it BACK

  • The Taliban now control all of Afghanistan’s main border crossing points with neighbouring countries, making it difficult for Afghans to flee
  • For those who make it across border, many are being sent back to Afghanistan
  • Afghans who reached Iran last week were sent back after being given food
  • Uzbekistan sent 150 Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan last week as per an agreement with the Taliban

Thousands of Afghans are now fleeing to the border to escape the Taliban, but their bid to leave Afghanistan is being thwarted as the Islamic insurgents won’t let people through crossings and neighbouring countries are sending those who make it back.  

Afghans have been told to stay away from Kabul airport due to a ‘imminent’ ISIS terror threat, with a multiple car-bomb attack feared by officials.  

Within hours of the warnings, a suicide bomber has caused a huge explosion outside Kabul airport a huge explosion outside the Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul and there were reports of gunfire as panicked Afghans and foreigners try to escape Taliban rule in Afghanistan.  

Officials say Afghans are among the wounded from the explosion but it is not yet known how many casualties there are from the attack.

The attack will pile on pressure on the operation to evacuate stranded foreigners and Afghans, with Tuesday’s deadline for foreign troops to leave fast approaching. 

Afghans are now fleeing on foot to neighbouring countries such as Iran in a bid to escape after the UK told them to head to the border, while many countries have announced they are ending their airlift operations.

But for those who have made the exhausting journey to Afghanistan’s borders, freedom is not guaranteed.

Afghans are now fleeing on foot to neighbouring countries such as Iran in a bid to escape after the UK told them to head to the border, while many countries have announced they are ending their airlift operations. But for those who have made the exhausting journey to Afghanistan’s borders, freedom is not guaranteed

Taliban fighters stand guard on their side at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan in Torkham

The Taliban now control all of Afghanistan’s main border crossing points with neighbouring countries and the Islamic militants have made clear they do not want Afghans to leave the country. 

Only traders or those with valid travel visas or documents are being allowed to cross the borders, reports suggest.

For those who manage to cross the border into the neighbouring countries, many are being sent back to Afghanistan. 

Several hundred Afghans who reached Milak over the border in Iran last week were kept at the border by Iranian authorities and given food and drink to the refugees. 

But their renewed hope of safety was short-lived as they were sent back to Afghanistan. 

Iran has set up emergency tents for the refugees at their border with Afghanistan an Interior Ministry chief said that any Afghans who entered the country would, ‘once conditions improve, be repatriated’.   

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan sent 150 Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan last week as per an agreement with the Taliban.

Several hundred Afghans who reached Milak over the border in Iran last week were kept at the border by Iranian authorities and given food and drink to the refugees. But their renewed hope of safety was short-lived as they were sent back to Afghanistan

Afghan refugees gathered at the Iran-Afghanistan border between Afghanistan and the southeastern Iranian Sistan and Baluchestan province on August 19

The refugees had been given security guarantees and all have reported they were able to return safely to their homes after the ‘necessary formalities’, the ministry said in a statement.

It is unclear how many Afghans have crossed into the former Soviet republic as Taliban insurgents overran Afghanistan. The Tashkent government has denied that senior Afghan figures such as ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dustum were among them.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has urged the neighbouring countries to keep their borders open and let Afghans through.

‘The vast majority of Afghans are not able to leave the country through regular channels,’ a UNHCR spokesperson said last week. ‘We continue to urge all countries neighbouring Afghanistan to maintain open borders, so that those seeking safety can find it.’

Meanwhile, thousands have been seen flocking to Spin Boldak in eastern Afghanistan in an attempt to cross the border into Chaman, Pakistan. 

Others have been seen travelling to Torkham further south in an attempt to flee to Pakistan – but the Taliban controls the road from Kabul which makes the journey treacherous. 

Journalist Harald Doornbos tweeted: ‘Kabul-Jalalabad-Torkham road (Pakistan border) is wholly owned by Taliban. Impossible to use for people wanted by the Taliban. If you’re in Kabul, really the only way out is to fly.’

Afghan people walk inside a fenced corridor as they enter Pakistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on Wednesday 

Troubling video showed thousands of Afghans attempting to flee the country via the Pakistan border. The footage shows a huge crowd of people at Spin Boldak, a southern village on the border with Pakistan, queuing up at the border gates

But with the UK, U.S. and Australia urging their citizens and Afghans to stay away from Kabul airport amid an ‘imminent’ terrorist threat, the option to fly out of Afghanistan is no longer possible.

Some desperate Afghans have turned to human traffickers to get them out of the country while others have managed to cross into Pakistan from Spin Boldak in Afghanistan in recent days, with the border crossing kept open only for those with valid documents. 

Pakistan has vowed to keep out refugees and has fenced off its border but many are illegally crossing on foot, with many being taken by human traffickers to countries such as Turkey. 

A people smuggler told The Guardian: It is impossible to fence the mountains and deserts,’ he said. ‘We have people at all entry points to receive the refugees and take them to the next destination.’   

It comes as a suicide bomb has caused a huge explosion outside Kabul airport with ‘unknown casualties’ just hours after warnings of an ‘imminent’ and ‘lethal’ ISIS terror attack.

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the blast which ripped through a crowd of Afghans gathered at the Abbey gate of the Hamid Karzai airport where there were also reports of gunfire amid the mass panic.  

Images from the scene show scores of bloodied people being carried away from the bombsite with reports of multiple casualties.

An Afghan man queueing to enter the airport said the explosion took place in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people, and he saw many injured and maimed people and was told of multiple fatalities.   

Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said: ‘We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can.’

A suicide bomb has caused a huge explosion outside Kabul airport with ‘unknown casualties’ just hours after warnings of an ‘imminent’ and ‘lethal’ ISIS terrorist attack

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the attack which took place at the Abbey gate of the Hamid Karzai where there were also reports of gunfire

Images from the scene show scores of bloodied people being carried away from the bombsite with witnesses saying they saw ‘so many hurt’

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

Tory MP Nus Ghani said she was on the phone to somebody outside Kabul airport when the explosion happened, tweeting: ‘Explosion at Kabul airport. I was on the phone to an Afghan outside the airport when he heard the explosion.

‘Praying that he gets away safely and we get his family safe passage out of this nightmare.’

Meanwhile Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, a member of the foreign affairs and national security strategy committees, said: ‘A bomb or attack with gun fire at northern gate of Baron’s hotel. Worried this will devastate evacuation – so many hurt. My heart is with all those injured and killed.’ 

It comes as shots were fired at Kabul airport. Italian intelligence officials say the gunfire at the airport was not directed at their plane transporting 100 Afghan civilians to safety, after military sources said the C-130 plane had been fired at.

A source from Italy’s Defence Ministry had said shots were fired at transport plane minutes after take-off was but was not damaged.

But intelligence reports now claim the gunfire was to disperse crowds gathered at the airport and was not directed at the departing plane amid the panic and heightened fears of an ‘imminent’ terror attack.

A US soldier holds up a sign indicating a gate is closed as hundreds gather at Kabul airport holding documents in a bid to flee despite security fears over a potential terror attack ‘within hours’

US soldiers stand guard inside the airport walls while desperate civilians gather outside the gates in a bid to escape the Taliban

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

Earlier, armed forces minister James Heappey said there is ‘very credible reporting’ of a ‘severe’ attack which could happen ‘within hours’ by ISIS-K, the sworn enemy of the Taliban who want to cause mayhem in the new regime. 

Heappey told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There is now very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack.

‘It’s an extraordinarily challenging situation both on the ground and as a set of decisions to be taken here in Whitehall because people are desperate, people are fearing for their lives anyway.

‘And so I think 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. I can only say the threat is severe.’

He added: ‘I can’t stress the desperation of the situation enough, the threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal.

‘And we wouldn’t be saying this if we weren’t genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target.’

Meanwhile Colonel Richard Kemp, former head of British forces in Afghanistan, said a terror attack could be carried out by any of Al Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘That threat of terrorist attack, whether it’s from Taliban, the Islamic State, or Al Qaeda, it could equally be all three of those groups.

‘The fact that people are talking about Islamic State doesn’t make that the most likely threat.

‘I think that threat has existed right the way from when this evacuation began, and I have no doubt that our forces are fully aware of the threat and already, for days now, have been taking measures to try and mitigate it, to prevent something like that happening.

‘But, clearly, there could be a terrorist attack of some sort against the forces in the airport, maybe forces outside the airport, and of course the people trying to get in.’

Founded in 2015, the ISIS splinter group’s followers aim to establish an Islamic caliphate across Khorasan (hence the initial ‘K’) – a historic region covering Pakistan and Afghanistan along with parts of Central Asia

Armed forces minister James Heappey said that there is ‘very credible reporting’ of a ‘severe’ attack

A minister has warned that a ‘very serious’ terror threat at Kabul airport is ‘imminent’ as thousands desperately try to flee Afghanistan. Pictured: people waiting outside Hamid Karzai airport

America, Britain and Australia all told their citizens in the early hours of Thursday to immediately leave the area over fears of a deadly blast from jihadists.  

But a Western diplomat in Kabul said areas outside the airport gates were ‘incredibly crowded’ again despite the warnings. 

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. 

US officials said last night there was a ‘very real risk’ of an attack by the terror group who are the Taliban’s rivals.

‘Due to threats outside the Kabul airport, US citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates unless you receive instructions to do so,’ the US State Department tweeted on Wednesday night. 

‘Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately.’ 

The order to leave the gates was issued at 3.30am local time in Kabul on Thursday morning.   

Planes departing from the US have been departing every 39 minutes in the rush to evacuate as many citizens as possible before the August 31 deadline.

In total, around 88,000 people have been airlifted from Kabul airport since evacuation efforts began, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, but up to 1,500 Americans and 400 Britons still remain on the ground. 

Already, military cargo planes leaving Kabul airport have launched flares to disrupt any potential surface-to-air missile fire as fleeing Afghan troops abandoned heavy weapons and equipment across the country in their collapse following America’s withdrawal of troops. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson today stressed that August 31 would not mark the end of the UK’s commitment to helping those who wish to flee Afghanistan.

Johnson told broadcasters that although the ‘lion’s share’ of eligible people had now been removed from the country, he recognised ‘there will be people who still need help’.

Asked whether this would be challenging amid reports of the Taliban blocking the roads, Mr Johnson said: ‘What we’re hoping, and this is the key point that the G7 agreed, is that the Taliban understand that if they want to engage with development aid, they want to unlock those billions of funds, they want to have a diplomatic, political relationship with the outside world, then the safe passage for those who want to come out is the key precondition.’

Some countries have begun to even pull their soldiers and diplomats out, fearing potential attacks and likely signaling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. 

French Prime Minister Jean Castex told French radio RTL on that ‘from tomorrow evening onwards, we are not able to evacuate people from the Kabul airport’ due to the upcoming American withdrawal.

A source close to the government added that the date had been imposed on France by the plan of the United States, which is providing security at the airport, to pull out by August 31.

The source added that France would do everything to keep its operation in place for as many more hours as it can, saying that the evacuation of civilians would wind up several hours before the formal end of the mission when military and remaining embassy services would leave.

Afghan nationals line up and wait for security checks in Pakistan before entering through a common border crossing point in Chaman

Armed Taliban fighters wait for lunch at a restaurant in Kabul while sitting with their guns amid the chaos at the international airport

Thousands of Afghans rush to the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to flee the Afghan capital of Kabul

The French foreign ministry has indicated that the final evacuations of civilians from Kabul by France would be late on Thursday or Friday morning.

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. 

And the Dutch government said it would stop evacuation flights from Kabul today in what it acknowledged was a ‘painful moment’ that would leave some people behind. 

Already, Poland and Belgium have ended their evacuations from Afghanistan. 

The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan grew out of disaffected Taliban members who hold an even-more extreme view of Islam, riding on a wave when the militants seized territory across Iraq and Syria. 

Naming themselves after Khorasan, a historic name for the greater region, the extremists embarked on a series of brutal attacks that included a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul that saw infants and women killed. 

The Taliban have fought against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan. However, their advance across the country likely saw IS fighters freed alongside the Taliban’s own.  

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