Kabul airport evacuations resume, Afghans return despite fears of more ISIS attacks

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Crowds of Afghans returned to Kabul’s airport Friday in an increasingly desperate attempt to escape the country after deadly suicide bombings killed 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans.

Evacuation flights resumed with fresh urgency as U.S. forces braced for further attacks ahead of President Joe Biden’s deadline to withdraw from the country.

America’s longest war will soon end in the shadow of Thursday’s blasts, which targeted U.S. troops and the thousands of civilians seeking to flee the Taliban’s takeover.

By early Friday the growing number of dead had reached 95 Afghans, according to the Associated Press, which cited Afghan officials. Many more were injured.

A Taliban fighter stands guard at Kabul airport.Wakil Kohsar / AFP – Getty Images

The Islamic State terror group‘s Afghan affiliate claimed responsibility for the “martyrdom attack” outside Kabul airport, which involved two suicide bombers who detonated explosive belts at the airport’s gate.

Video taken in the aftermath showed civilian bodies in a sewage ditch, their efforts to escape a militant group’s rule destroyed by a far more radical terror group.

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The airport has been a hub for violent and chaotic scenes since the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15.

The group’s fighters have patrolled the area outside the airport, using force at checkpoints but struggling to bring order or screen those seeking access to the airport.

Each day civilians have gathered in the sweltering heat, risking everything in a bid to make it out — or let their children do so.

On Friday the crowds were smaller, and faced an even taller task.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said commanders were on alert for more attacks by ISIS-K, including rockets or car bombs targeting the airport.

“We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,” he said.

Biden on Thursday promised to continue evacuation efforts, holding firm to his deadline of Aug. 31 for U.S. forces to complete their withdrawal despite pressure to extend it.

Biden vowed to respond “with force” to the terrorists behind the attacks in an emotional speech from the White House.

But some U.S. allies have said they are ending their airlifts.

Britain said Friday its evacuations from Afghanistan will end within hours, and the main British processing center for eligible Afghans has been closed.

The Spanish government said it has ended its evacuation operation. And France said it will end its evacuation operation “soon” but may seek to extend it until after Friday night.

After a shaky start, the pace of evacuations has increased in recent days.

More than 70,000 people have been evacuated since mid-August, according to the White House.

McKenzie said Thursday that about about 5,000 people were awaiting flights on the airfield and there were about 1,000 Americans still in Afghanistan, but that not all of them wanted to leave the country.

The U.S. has had boots on the ground in Afghanistan since 2001, when it invaded and toppled the Taliban regime after the group sheltered Osama bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda and the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The war has cost the lives of around 2,300 U.S. troops, leaving thousands more wounded. More than 100,000 Afghans are estimated to have been killed or wounded since the conflict began.

Mushtaq Yusufzai contributed.

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