US sharply scales back Afghanistan airlift as it scrambles for exit


Afghanistan updates

The US dramatically scaled back its evacuation mission in Afghanistan on Monday with the number of civilians being airlifted out of Kabul falling sharply as its forces scramble to withdraw ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to end the 20-year war.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said military commanders were sharing some drawdown logistics with Taliban commanders to “deconflict and prevent miscalculations and misunderstandings”. He added: “So far that communication has been effective.”

The pace of the airlift has slowed significantly in recent days as the US switches its focus from evacuating civilians to withdrawing its troops and equipment.

On Monday, the US said its military had evacuated approximately 1,200 people over the previous 24 hours, compared with 6,800 on Friday and almost 13,000 a-day at the peak of the operation last week.

The Taliban on Monday told Afghans they would be blocked from going to the airport even if they had visas and documents.

The final push to conclude the evacuation is taking place against the backdrop of an increasingly dangerous security situation in Kabul, where the airport has been the target of a successful suicide bombing and unsuccessful rocket attacks.

Isis claimed responsibility for rockets fired at the airport on Monday, although there were no casualties. US defence officials said five rockets were fired at the airport, one of which was intercepted by US rocket defence systems. 

That attack follows a deadly suicide bombing on Thursday that killed 13 US service personnel, injured 14 more, and killed more than 100 civilians who were near the Abbey gate of the airport. 

The US has launched at least two drone strikes in retaliation after Biden vowed to “hunt down” those responsible.

The Pentagon said on Monday it was “assessing and investigating” reports it had killed about 10 civilians with a drone strike on Sunday. “We are not in a position to dispute it,” said Kirby. 

He added: “Make no mistake, no military on the face of the earth works harder to avoid civilian casualties than the US military, and nobody wants to see innocent life taken.”

The drone strike, which hit a crowded Kabul neighbourhood, has sparked controversy. The US said it “successfully hit the target” and had destroyed an explosives-laden vehicle that was to be used in a second airport attack, and that “significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material”.

But in Kabul, news reports said a former US army interpreter and several of his children were killed in the strike.

Additional reporting by Amy Kazmin in New Delhi



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