On Aug. 25, the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan issued a security alert, asking American citizens in the country to avoid going to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Americans who are at the East Gate, Abbey Gate, or the North Gate have been advised to “leave immediately.” The Kabul airport is the last remaining free exit point in Afghanistan that is under the control of western forces. All other exits are now under the control of the Taliban.
“Because of security threats outside the gates of Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so,” the security alert said. It also asked Americans to remain aware of their surroundings “at all times” and follow the instructions of local authorities, including restrictions of movement.
President Joe Biden also mentioned terror threats at the airport from groups like ISIS-K. However, he intends to stick to the withdrawal deadline of Aug. 31 unless there are unforeseen disruptions. The Taliban has also stressed that they would not tolerate foreign presence in the country after the end of this month.
The UK government issued a travel warning on Aug. 25, stating that the security situation in Afghanistan “remains volatile.” Citing an ongoing “high threat of terrorist attack,” the advisory asked people to not travel to the Hamid Karzai Airport and move away to a safe location if they are in the vicinity. “Commercial flights are not currently operating. If you can leave Afghanistan safely by other means, you should do so immediately,” the travel warning stated.
UK Armed Forces minister James Heappey stated that there is a possibility of an attack at the Hamid Karzai Airport, which is why London issued the travel warning. The “severe” nature of the threat has created an “extraordinary challenging situation” on the ground, he stated.
“The credibility of the reporting has now reached the stage where we believe that there is a very imminent, highly lethal attack possible within Kabul… People are desperate, people are fearing for their lives anyway, and so I think there’s an appetite among many in the queue to take their chances,” Heappey told the BBC.
Though Heappey did not provide the last date of the UK’s evacuation flights, he said that such efforts would have to be ended before the last American airlifts. Biden had earlier rejected calls from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to consider an extension of the withdrawal date. The Kabul airport is presently secured by 5,800 American troops and 1,000 UK military personnel.
According to the Pentagon, the Taliban has now consolidated control in the area around the airport. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby stated that the crowds at the airport were thinning out since the Taliban now controls access to the site.
According to Al Jazeera reporter Charlotte Bellis who is at the Kabul airport, there is “panic” among people. They are desperately trying to get into the final flights. The Taliban are only allowing people with foreign passports through to the airport, putting them on designated buses. Others are pushed back.
“In the meantime, they are trying to control the crowds and keep people back and stop them from swamping the area so that these buses can come through. How they are doing that is by shooting guns in the air, by using water cannons and by beating people,” Bellis said.