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U.S. allies abandon evacuations

In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air Force via AP)

A number of U.S. allies announced an end to evacuations from the Kabul airport Thursday, citing intelligence of an imminent terror threat and a looming deadline for U.S. withdrawal.

Canada and several European nations, including Belgium, Denmark and Poland, all said that they had halted flights and France said it was stopping its rescue efforts Friday — ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline set by President Biden for the departure of U.S. troops.

An August 19 tweet from France Diplomacy said, “The flights since August 16 have evacuated nearly 500 French, Afghans and other nationalities. Several hundred French citizens and Afghans with ties to France had already been taken to shelter early between May and July.”

A 12th flight with more than 270 people on board, mostly of Afghan nationality brought the number since the operations began to more than 100 French people and over 2,000 Afghans who have reached French soil, as of August 25.

The Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for the Armed Forces, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry for Solidarity and Health are ensuring optimal conditions for welcoming the people as soon as they arrive in France.

The announcements follow two deadly explosions that rocked Kabul airport Thursday, killing at least six people and injuring dozens of others.

Western intelligence officials had warned of an imminent terror threat from ISIS-K terrorists—who are sworn enemies of the Taliban—as thousands of people gathered hoping for a flight out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The blasts came as the August 31 deadline loomed for the United States to withdraw its troops, and for Western countries to end their massive airlifts.

Belgium’s prime minister said that reports of planned suicide attacks meant that the airport had become too dangerous. The Dutch government said in a letter to parliament that it expected its last evacuation flight to leave Afghanistan on Thursday.

“This is a painful moment because it means that despite all the great efforts of the past period, people who are eligible for evacuation to the Netherlands will be left behind,” Reuters quoted the letter as saying.

Also Thursday, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said that the effort was “now in what is certainly the most hectic, dangerous and sensitive phase.”

“We know that the terror threats have intensified massively and that they have become significantly more concrete,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said, the Associated Press reported.

Tens of thousands of Afghans and foreigners fled to the airport after Taliban fighters seized power in Kabul earlier this month. The United States and others began evacuating citizens and allied Afghans, with the White House saying Thursday that it facilitated the evacuation of about 95,700 people.

Some European allies pressed for more time but lost the argument, and as a practical matter they may be forced to end their evacuations before the last American troops leave.

Several countries haven’t said yet when they plan to end their operations, perhaps hoping to avoid yet another fatal crush at an airport, one of the last ways out of the country.

The Taliban wrestled back control of Afghanistan nearly 20 years after they were ousted in a US-led invasion following the September 11 attacks, which Al-Qaeda orchestrated while being sheltered by the group. Their return to power has pushed many Afghans to flee, fearing reprisals or a return to the brutal rule they imposed when the fundamentalist religious group last ran the country.

Thousands of people are still thought to be trying to leave, and it’s not clear that all of them will be able to before the end of the month.

Observers caution that any decision by Biden to stay longer could reignite fighting between the Taliban and Western troops running the airlift.

“Due to extreme tension on the ground … and the scheduled departure of American forces, these evacuations are a true race against time,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday. He said that his country’s evacuation would likely end “a few hours, maybe a few days ahead” of the American departure.

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