U.S. troops have started withdrawing from Kabul’s airport, marking the beginning of the end of the two-week effort to get foreigners and their local allies out of Afghanistan after the country’s capital fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15. The vast majority of NATO nations have flown their troops out of Afghanistan after more than two decades although the United States said its airlifts would continue until the Tuesday deadline even as the number of American troops at the airport starts to dwindle. Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, published a video on Twitter from the airport saying it was “time to close this phase of the operation now.” Britain carried out its final evacuation flights on Saturday.
As everyone starts getting ready for the next phase, Taliban forces started closing off the airport to most Afghans on Saturday. New checkpoints emerged on the roads leading to the airport and Taliban forces converged outside the airport to prevent large crowds from gathering. There was concern that there could be a repeat of Thursday’s suicide attack that killed 169 Afghans and 13 American service members. Taliban forces also took positions inside the airport ready to take control once the last American troops fly out.
The Pentagon said Saturday that it had carried out a retaliatory drone strike that killed two “high-profile” Islamic State militants. Officials wouldn’t say whether those who were killed were directly involved in the suicide bombing only describing them as “facilitators” and “planners.” ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State, had claimed responsibility for Thursday’s airport attack. “The fact that two of these individuals are no longer walking on the face of the earth, that’s a good thing,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. The Taliban condemned the strike even as they announced arrests of some people suspected of being involved in the attack. “The Americans should have informed us before conducting the air strike, it was a clear attack on Afghan territory,” a Taliban spokesman said.