French Seek Safe Zone; Biden Warns of Attack: Afghanistan Update

U.S. President Joe Biden said military commanders told him another terrorist attack at Kabul airport is “highly likely,” after a suicide bomber killed at least 88 people, including 13 U.S. service members. French President Emmanuel Macron called for a United Nations “safe zone” in the capital.  

As several countries wind down civilian evacuations, the Pentagon pushed back against news reports that the Taliban are encroaching on control of Kabul airport ahead of the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, saying the airlift of fleeing Afghans continued on Saturday.    

The U.K. concluded its final civilian flight and some of the 1,000 British troops in Afghanistan began to leave. The U.S. and its allies evacuated another 6,800 people through Kabul airport on Friday, bringing the total to about 111,900 since the operation began on Aug. 14, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Twitter. 

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All items are in Eastern Time:

France, U.K. to Seek Kabul ‘Safe Zone’ (6:00 p.m.) 

French President Emmanuel Macron called for the creation of a “safe zone” under United Nations control in Kabul to allow continued humanitarian operations and help outside countries maintain pressure on the Taliban.

Macron plans to propose a resolution along with the U.K. at an emergency session of the UN Security Council on Monday, Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper quoted the president as saying in an interview.

Biden Says Another Kabul Attack ‘Highly Likely’ (2:50 p.m.)

President Joe Biden said U.S. military commanders told him another terrorist attack on Kabul airport is “highly likely in the next 24-36 hours.” 

Biden said the situation on the ground remains “extremely dangerous” and he directed commanders to “take every possible measure to prioritize force protection” as the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline approaches. The president said he and his national security team on Saturday also discussed how to help people leave Afghanistan after U.S. forces are gone. 

A U.S. air strike against the group known as ISIS-K, the Islamic State offshoot that claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing Thursday around Kabul airport, “was not the last,” Biden said in a statement. “We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay.”

U.S. Military Names Kabul Bombing Casualties (1:15 p.m.)

The Defense Department released the names of 13 service members who died in the terrorist bombing near Kabul airport on Thursday. They include 11 Marines, a hospitalman and an Army staff sergeant.

All but two were between the ages of 20 and 23. The other two victims were 25 and 31.

U.S. Says Two ISIS-K Targets Killed in Strike (12:45 p.m.)

The Pentagon raised the toll inflicted in a reprisal air strike on ISIS-K targets in Nangahar Province, east of Kabul, to two killed and one wounded, according to U.S. Major General William Taylor at a briefing Saturday.

The targets were “ISIS-K planners and facilitators,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said. “They have lost some capability to plan and conduct missions,” Kirby told reporters, though “the threat stream is still active” and the strike doesn’t “get us in the clear.”

The U.S. initially reported killing one target. That person was suspected of being involved in plotting future attacks, but had no direct link to Thursday’s assault in Kabul, according to a U.S. official, who said the target was killed by a Reaper drone while traveling in a vehicle.

France in Talks With Taliban, Macron Says (11:45 a.m.)

France has started “fragile and very provisional” discussions with the Taliban about humanitarian operations and is working with Qatar on evacuating more people from Afghanistan, President Emmanuel Macron said.

The goal in the “days, weeks and months ahead” is to carry out targeted evacuations to protect hundreds of people identified by France and given temporary documents, Macron told reporters during a visit to Iraq. 

Last U.K. Flight of Civilians Leaves Kabul (7:45 a.m.)

The final U.K. evacuation flight carrying civilians out of Afghanistan has left Kabul. The U.K. has managed to bring 15,000 people to safety, U.K. Ambassador Laurie Bristow said in a video from Kabul airport. “It’s time to close this phase of the operation now, but we haven’t forgotten the people who still need to leave. We’ll continue to do everything we can to help them.”

Iran Blames U.S. for Kabul Attack, Signals Open to Relations With Taliban (6:55 a.m.)

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, put the blame for the bombing on the U.S., saying on state television that it was caused by “the work of Americans that seized the country 20 years ago and exercised all kinds of atrocities against the people.” 

He also signaled that Iran was open to relations with the Taliban, and would be evaluated as the Taliban’s actions became clearer.“Governments come and go, but it’s the Afghan nation that remains,” he said.

Afghans Protest Outside Banks as Cash Runs Short (6:05 a.m.)

Hundreds of Afghans protested outside a Kabul bank on Saturday and long lines were forming at cash machines as the supply of money in the capital dries up, the Associated Press reported. Many of the demonstrators at the New Kabul Bank were civil servants, who said they hadn’t received their salary payments for months, the AP said. ATM withdrawals are limited to around $200 every 24 hours, contributing to the long lines, AP said.

U.K., Italy, Turkey Wind Down Evacuations (5:00 a.m.)

Britain was expected to conclude its civilian evacuation from Afghanistan Saturday, Sky News reported, citing British chief of defense staff Sir Nick Carter.  “Not a day passes where I don’t have a tear in my eye over that,” he said, referring to the inability to evacuate all seeking to flee. U.K. troops who had been stationed in Afghanistan are also arriving back home, the Associated Press reported. 

Italy’s last evacuation flight from Afghanistan landed in Rome on Saturday morning, carrying diplomats, military police personnel and 58 Afghan refugees, the Ansa news agency reported. Also, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said late Friday his country had evacuated all troops and civilians from Afghanistan, and only a small group of technical staff remained. 

Albania received its second group of Afghan refugees — 95 who landed in the Balkan country Friday night. That brought the total number evacuated from Kabul to over 200, Tirana-based Koha Jone newspaper reported early Saturday. Premier Edi Rama has offered temporary shelter for thousands of Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Separately, 

Blinken Discusses Kabul Airport with Qatari Minister (10:53 p.m.)

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken discussed with Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani about the importance of maintaining operations at Kabul airport after the withdrawal of forces to enable humanitarian aid and essential travel to continue, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Blinken also thanked the minister for Qatar’s support in humanitarian efforts, and in facilitating the safe transit of U.S. citizens, embassy personnel, and foreign nationals evacuated from Kabul to third countries.

Amazon Disables Website Celebrating Kabul Attack (10:25 p.m.)

Amazon Web Services is the host of a website that celebrated the suicide bombing at Kabul airport, the Washington Post reported. Inc. said it has disabled a website that’s linked to an app, identified by the Washington Post as the Nida-e-Haqq app. The paper described Nida-e-Haqq as an ISIS media group that distributes Islamist content in the Urdu language, and its app had an image of the suicide bomber before he carried out the attack, the report said.

“Following an investigation, we have disabled a website that was linked to this app as it was in violation of the AWS Acceptable Use Policy,” Amazon said. “The AWS AUP prohibits the use of our services to threaten, incite, promote, or actively encourage violence, terrorism, or other serious harm. When we receive reports of potential violations of our AUP, we act quickly to investigate and take action to disable prohibited content.” 

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