Taliban says ready to take over airport

·3-min read

US forces are in the final phase of leaving Kabul, ending two decades of involvement in Afghanistan, and just more than 1000 civilians at the airport remain to be flown out before troops withdraw, a Western security official says.

The country's new Taliban rulers were prepared to take control of the airport, said an official from the hardline Islamist movement that has swept cross Afghanistan, crushing the US-backed government.

The Western security official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters on Sunday a date and time for the end of the operation was yet to be decided.

President Joe Biden has said he will stick by his deadline to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by Tuesday, 20 years after they invaded Kabul and ousted the Taliban government for shielding the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"We want to ensure that every foreign civilian and those who are at risk are evacuated today. Forces will start flying out once this process is over," said the official, who is stationed at the airport.

The Western-backed government and Afghan army melted away as the Taliban entered the capital on August 15, leaving an administrative vacuum that has bolstered fears of a financial collapse and widespread hunger.

Under a deal with the US, the Taliban has said it will allow foreigners and Afghans who wish to leave to fly out. The US and allies have taken about 113,500 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks, but tens of thousands who want to go will be left behind.

A US official told Reuters on Saturday fewer than 4000 troops were left at the airport, down from 5800 at the peak of the evacuation mission.

A Taliban official told Reuters the Islamist group had engineers and technicians ready to take charge of the airport after the "final nod from the Americans".

The Western security official said crowds at the airport gates had diminished after a specific warning from the US government of another militant attack after a suicide bombing outside the airport on Thursday.

The explosion killed scores of Afghans and 13 American troops outside the gates of the airport, where thousands of Afghans had gathered to try to get a flight out since the Taliban returned to power.

The US said on Friday it killed two militants belonging to Islamic State - enemies of both the West and Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers - which had claimed responsibility for the attack.

Biden had vowed to hunt down the perpetrators of the explosion and said the strike was not the last.

The Taliban condemned the late-night US drone strike, which took place in Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan, saying two women and a child were wounded in the attack.

The Taliban have said they have arrested some suspects involved in the blast.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Saturday the Taliban would take over the airport "very soon" after US forces withdrew and announce a full cabinet in the coming days.

Mujahid told Reuters the group had appointed governors and police chiefs in all but one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and would act to solve the country's economic problems.

US military and allied countries' flights carried fewer people on Saturday as Washington prepared to end its mission.

The last British flight pulling out civilians from Afghanistan left Kabul on Saturday. British troops would take small numbers of Afghan citizens with them as they left this weekend, the defence ministry said.

The airport attack added fuel to criticism Biden faced at home and abroad for the chaos following the Taliban's lightning advance.

He has defended his decisions, saying the US long ago achieved its rationale for invading in 2001.

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