Taliban Warned ‘Malicious Elements’ Were Planning Attack in Interview Hours Before Kabul Explosion
© REUTERS / STRINGERA Taliban fighter holding an M16 assault rifle stands outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021.
© REUTERS / STRINGER
Despite the massive explosions outside Kabul’s main airport on Thursday, the Taliban* has said it has no intention to extend the US’ withdrawal deadline past August 31, the date agreed upon for the US-led 20-year occupation war to end.
An official with the Taliban told the New York Post they were “doing everything possible” to prevent a terrorist attack in Kabul, just hours before two deadly blasts rocked the Afghan capital on Thursday afternoon.
“We have received reports that malicious elements are planning terror attacks against civilians but are actively doing everything possible to prevent any such attacks from occurring,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, who heads the Taliban’s Cultural Commission, told the New York Post on Thursday morning.
The US had also previously warned that Daesh-K*, an Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan hostile to both the US and the Taliban, posed an “acute” and “persistent” threat to the US troops stationed at Hamid Karzai International Airport in northern Kabul, and to the crowds of people outside waiting to get into the airport.
Earlier this week, Taliban forces began directing people to stay away from the airport gates unless they are already approved to fly out, but were reportedly only allowing foreigners to leave, according to a Taliban source. The US, UK, and other nations with citizens in the country have scrambled to get their people the necessary information to get to the airport and leave before the August 31 deadline for NATO forces’ final withdrawal from the country.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that over the previous nine days, more than 82,000 people had been airlifted out of Kabul to other countries, the vast majority of them Afghans.
“Everyone with proper documentation will be able to travel in and out of the country,” Balkhi told the Post. “Everyone, including Afghans with proper documentation, is able to leave. However, we believe they should stay and serve their own homeland by providing their expertise and skills.”
© REUTERS / US AIR FORCEU.S. soldiers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, arrive to provide security in support of Operation Allies Refuge at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 20, 2021.
U.S. soldiers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, arrive to provide security in support of Operation Allies Refuge at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 20, 2021.
© REUTERS / US AIR FORCE
The twin blasts, one at an eastern secondary gate to the airport and the other at a hotel near the airport used by US and British forces, are believed to have killed dozens of people and injured even more. A Taliban spokesperson said late Thursday that “between 13 and 20” people were believed to be dead, while a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed that at least four of the dead were US Marines. Other reports say at least 10 US service members have been killed and 40 people killed overall, with more than 100 wounded.
The Taliban denounced the attacks in a statement, saying “targeting innocent civilians is an act of terrorism” that the whole world should condemn, adding that the explosion took place in an “area where US forces are responsible” for security. However, they reportedly don't know who is behind the attack.
Speaking separately to Turkey’s Haberturk TV, a Taliban official said it is “because of the presence of foreign forces that such attacks take place” and that once the situation at the airport is figured out and the foreign forces leave, the terrorist attacks would also end.
The Taliban captured Kabul from the US-backed Afghan government on August 15, after the city surrendered without a fight and then-President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. While Ghani’s vice president, Amrullah Saleh, has declared himself the caretaker president from a location in hiding north of Kabul, the Taliban is in control of the vast majority of the country and is recognized as the de facto governing authority by many nations, if only for purposes of coordinating the withdrawal.
“As a practical matter, it advances our interests” to engage with the Taliban, Blinken told reporters on Wednesday, saying that an Afghan government that keeps its commitments to renouncing terrorism, protecting human rights, and allowing people to leave is “a government we can work with.”
“When we entered Kabul, and it was not planned because we announced initially that we do not want to enter Kabul, and we want to reach a political solution before entering Kabul and making a joint and inclusive government,” Balkhi told the Post. “But what happened was that the security forces left, abandoned their places, and we were forced to ask our forces to enter and take over security.”
“The next step is to announce an inclusive government in which all ethnicities and people of Afghanistan are reflected, and all including women are afforded their right to education, health, work etc., within the framework of Islamic law,” he added.
The Taliban has made similar pledges to other nations as well, including Pakistan, China, and Iran - neighbors keen to see a peaceful Afghanistan that doesn’t pose a threat to its neighbors or spill its conflict over into the region. Promises of infrastructure investment have served as an added incentive, and the Taliban has also asked for help with finding replacement crops for the country’s many poppy farmers in an attempt to crack down on the massive opium trade.
The Taliban was previously in power from 1996 until 2001 when the US invasion threw the group out of power, but it reorganized and launched an insurgency in 2002. The US invasion was motivated by Taliban support for al-Qaeda, which coordinated the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US from its bases in Afghanistan, although none of the hijackers who carried out the attacks were Afghan. The Taliban offered to arrest al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and turn him over for trial if the US provided proof of his guilt, which Washington refused to do.
*The Taliban and Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) are terrorist organisations outlawed in Russia and many other states.