Kabul Airport security in tatters after IS-linked blasts

Kabul Airport security in tatters after IS-linked blasts
A number of countries have told their nationals to avoid Kabul airport due to the threat of an imminent attack by Afghanistan's Islamic State group, putting the UK's evacuation under new pressure with days to go
3 min read
26 August, 2021
The UK’s defence minister Ben Wallace reportedly told an online meeting of British MPs that there were are few places left on evacuation flights [Getty - file photo]

Two explosions outside Kabul airport on Thursday have prompted searching questions about the Taliban's ability to maintain security at the perimeter amid the threat posed by Afghanistan's Islamic State group affiliate.

The Pentagon press secretary said an explosion occurred outside the airport, which is being run by UK and US troops, which appeared to confirm earlier warnings from several countries that an IS-linked attack was imminent.

At least five people have died in the blast including "US and civilian casualties", according to the Pentagon.

Images shared on social showed scenes of chaos around the already hectic airport, as Western countries have less than a week to evacuate nationals and Afghans vulnerable to Taliban retaliation.

Bilal Sarwary, an Afghan journalist, showed a photo of an area at the airport where Afghans due to be vetted had been waiting when the bomb exploded.

He said that a suicide bomber blew themselves up in the crowd with at least one other attacker opening fire, according to multiple witnesses. The New Arab cannot independently verify these claims.

Earlier on Thursday, several countries had warned their nationals to avoid Kabul airport immediately and move to a safe place, citing the threat of an attack by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP).

James Heappey, the UK armed forces minister told Sky News, that a "very lethal attack" could happen in a matter of hours, either in the airport or handling centres used to assess refugees.

ISKP view the Taliban as apostates, and the two groups have fought battles across the country.

Two years ago, the Taliban fought alongside the US and the previous Afghan government to root out ISKP from territories they had held in eastern Afghanistan.

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After Thursday's attack, it is likely that the attention of the international community will now focused on how the Taliban can deal with the threat from the transnational extremist group.

"Whilst the Taliban's intelligence capacity is known to be relatively strong, how much they have infiltrated urban ISKP cells is still difficult to determine, given their previous focusing was on fighting the regime," said Ahmad Wali Kakar, an Afghan analyst.

"They [the Taliban] are still grappling with the other challenges of running a government. In the process, they may face challenges in countering and stopping plots to launch attacks."

It is unclear whether the security advice of western nations pertaining to Tuesday's attack will have reached the thousands of Afghans turning up to the airport amid blistering heat and masses of dirt.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that 15,000 people had been flown out of Afghanistan by the UK  so far - a figure he described as the "vast majority" of eligible people. But the UK's defence minister Ben Wallace reportedly told an online meeting of British MPs that there were are few places left on evacuation flights and that "not everyone is going to get out" by 31 August.

Relatives of a UK national stranded in Afghanistan after being denied the request to return with dependent family members, spoke to The New Arab, asking that he remain anonymous over threats to his safety.

They said that the man travelled from a province once a stronghold of ISKP with family members after learning that British authorities would allow him to bring them. 

But amid the unfolding chaos at the airport on arrival, that advice changed, and he was told that only he would be able to board the evacuation flight.

He is now staying in Kabul with his relatives, with plans on returning to eastern Afghanistan.

"He will not part ways with his elderly mother. As difficult as things are, he will choose to remain in Afghanistan," a UK-based relative told TNA.