The last-ditch effort to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan was upended Wednesday night amid a serious terror threat believed to be from the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, with the State Department warning U.S. citizens to immediately flee sections of the Kabul airport.
The urgent message from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul came just hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed that about 1,500 Americans are still trapped in Afghanistan. The latest threat will make evacuating those Americans even more difficult and dangerous.
“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 embassy said.
“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the warning said.
Pentagon and State Department officials warned earlier Wednesday of credible threats from ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s affiliate group in Afghanistan.
“We’re operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack. We’re taking every precaution, but this is very high risk,” Mr. Blinken said during a speech at the State Department Wednesday afternoon.
The U.S. has flown nearly 100,000 people — the vast majority of whom are Afghans — from the Kabul airport since the evacuation mission began. Earlier this week, a gunman opened fire on Afghan security forces at the facility, though it’s unclear whether the shooter was a member of ISIS-K.
Of the 1,500 Americans still in the country, at least 500 are known to be trying to escape, Mr. Blinken said. The State Department is trying to make contact with the other 1,000, many of whom may be outside Kabul.
U.S., Afghan and other foreign troops are guarding the airport itself. The Taliban is operating checkpoints around the perimeter of the facility.
President Biden has set an Aug. 31 deadline for a full withdrawal from the country despite serious concerns that not all Americans and Afghan allies can be evacuated in time.