The escape from Afghanistan continued to descend into a humiliating debacle for the US on Saturday, as threats of ISIS attacks and Taliban death squads — and contradictory guidance from the White House — added to the perilous chaos faced by thousands of Americans and allies trying to flee the country.
The US Embassy said on Saturday that American citizens in Afghanistan should stay away from Kabul’s airport, the only way out.
The advisory directly contradicted President Biden’s insistence on Friday that Americans could proceed to Hamid Karzai International Airport freely from the Afghan capital and that an “agreement” with the Taliban had been reached over the issue.
“Because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport, we are advising US citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time,” the embassy said in a security alert on Saturday.
The Islamic fundamentalists have taken control of the capital — and the US says it does not have the logistical capacity to enter the city and rescue individual Americans.
While the airport remains under US control, the trek to it has become incredibly dangerous, with militants setting up arbitrary checkpoints along the road and turning away or assaulting those who seek to pass, according to reports.
News emerged on Saturday that ISIS and other terrorist groups could be to blame, forcing the US military to find new ways to get evacuees to the airport, The Associated Press reported.
An Afghan interpreter — on his fifth attempt to reach the airport — told CBS News that the Taliban were telling people outside the airport that ISIS was planning an attack.
The embassy’s new guidance underscores the growing crisis and confusion on the ground, as the US scrambles to evacuate its citizens and Afghan allies from the clutches of the Taliban.
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer blasted Biden, saying the president has put Americans “just one stray bullet away from a bloodbath in Kabul.”
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a politician, particularly at a perilous moment like this, be so in denial, out of touch, out to lunch and all around clueless,” Fleischer, who served in the George W. Bush administration, told Rita Cosby on WABC Radio Friday.
In the last 24 hours, six U.S. Military C-17s and 32 charter flights have left the airport carrying a total 3,800 passengers, military officials reported Saturday. In Germany Saturday, American soldiers were seen readying barracks for refugees.
Still the situation in the country continued to deteriorate over the weekend as the Taliban moved to consolidate their gains and subdue the population.
Taliban death squads were on the hunt Saturday for Afghans and others who they believe collaborated with the United States or the recently deposed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, according to a group that assists Afghan interpreters caught up in the mayhem.
The Australian non-profit Forsaken Fighters said “tens of thousands” could potentially be at risk.
“Interpreters on the ground in Kandahar have reported that the Taliban have been actively seeking out interpreters who supported coalition forces, even using local kids to help in pointing out people and going door to door to find them,” the organization told The Sun.
“People are being dragged from their houses and executed. It is a truly horrific situation. The sheer desperation of those people that assisted us is overwhelming.”
A family member of a journalist from the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle was shot dead by the Taliban, the broadcaster confirmed, adding that other staff in the country have had their homes raided, Reuters reported.
The Taliban has created “priority lists” of alleged collaborators to hunt down in the effort and have been making “targeted door-to-door visits” according to a leaked United Nations document viewed by Agence France-Presse.
John Kirby, a Department of Defense spokesman, was asked about terrorist threats during a press conference Saturday, but declined to elaborate.
“We’re not going to get into specific details about the threat environment,” he said.
During the same briefing, Kirby defended his past remarks just days before Kabul fell to the Taliban, saying the city was “not right now in any imminent threat environment.”
“In the moment that I said it, based on what we knew at the time, It was a true statement. And yes, two days later things dramatically changed. I readily admit that. Things moved very very quickly,” Kirby told Fox News on Saturday.
Additional reporting by Mary Kay Linge and Eileen AJ Connelly