IS threat imperils evacuation efforts in Afghanistan, US officials say
The US has warned its citizens about the potential for attacks by Afghanistan's branch of the Islamic State (IS) group, as crowds gather at the Kabul airport in a desperate attempt to flee a new Taliban rule.
The US Embassy in Kabul has warned its citizens to avoid Hamid Karzai airport unless instructed to do so due to "potential security threats".
No further details were given about the nature of the threat or the likelihood of an IS attack. The group has not publicly threatened to carry out attacks in Kabul.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby described the embassy guidance as "prudent notification to make sure that whatever movement there is done as safely as possible".
"I'm not going to get into specific threat assessments," he said. "It's very, very fluid and dynamic."
The threat of attacks on civilians in Kabul from IS militants has added another hazard to the already chaotic evacuation under way in Afghanistan. Crowds have been gathering daily, hoping to be allowed on to a flight and avoid possible reprisals at the hands of the Taliban if they are unable to leave.
Several people are believed to have died at the scene due to crowds pressing into the airport's gates
The US Department of Defence said on Saturday that 17,000 people had been flown out of the airport, including some 2,500 US citizens.
One US official told USA Today that the threat from an IS attack was significant and had affected planning for the evacuation. A second official told the news outlet that the possibility of an attack had always been a concern and that commanders had accounted for it.
President Joe Biden was briefed on IS in Afghanistan on Saturday in a situation room meeting that included Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Pentagon officials said they would continue to process evacuees from Afghanistan, despite the security situation at Kabul airport.
"The airport remains secure," Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor, deputy director of the joint staff for regional operations, said according to USA Today. "There has been no reported change to the current enemy situation in and around the airport at this time."
About 22,000 people have been evacuated since July, including 2,500 US citizens.