UNITED States President Joe Biden has warned that any attack on American forces or disruption of the country’s evacution operations at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul would be met with swift and forceful response.
Biden gave the warning during a press conference at the White House to provide update on evacuation efforts in Kabul against the backdrop of the suspension of flights on Friday.
“We’re also keeping a close watch on any potential terrorist threat, at or around the airport; including from the ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan who were released from prison when the prisons were emptied,” the U.S. President said.
Explaining that evacuation flights from Kabul were paused for a few hours on Friday to ensure that evacuees arriving at the transit points could be properly processed, Biden announced that the U.S. commander in Kabul had already given the order for outbound flights to resume.
More than 18, 000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since July and approximately 13, 000 since the U.S. military airlift began on August 14, including all 204 employees of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal in the country.
“Thousands more have been evacuated on private-chartered flights facilitated by the US government,” Biden noted, reassuring Americans still awaiting evacuation of his government’s commitment to bring them to safety.
“Let me be clear, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home. Make no mistakes, this evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to armed forces and is being conducted under difficult circumstances,” he said.
A coalition of organisations involved in the protection of human rights had, Friday, urged Biden to take all feasible measures to ensure that flights leaving Afghanistan were full and the U.S. forces remained on the ground until the most-vulnerable Afghans were safely out of the country, including past August 31.
The message was conveyed in a letter addressed to Biden and signed by Executive Director of Amnesty USA Paul O’Brien; President of The Change Reaction Wade Trimmer; President of Freedom House Michael Abramowitz; President and CEO of HIAS Mark Hetfield; and Senior Director of Human Rights First Jennifer Quigley.
Others included: Washington Director for Human Rights Watch Sarah Holewinski; President & CEO of LIRS Krish Vignarajah; Director of Strategy for IRAP Betsy Fisher; President and CEO of Rockefeller Brothers Fund Stephen Heintz and Executive Director of Scholars at Risk Network Robert Quinn.
The alliance expressed deep concern about the extremely difficult and volatile situation at the Kabul airport and feared that current evacuation approach put thousands of lives at risk.
“We firmly believe the United States has a responsibility to safely evacuate these individuals. Yet, under current conditions, the United States is not on track to evacuate many of these individuals it is capable of bringing out of the country.
“The security environment surrounding Hamid Karzai International Airport remains unstable, preventing many Afghan and international civilians from safely arriving for their evacuation flights,” part of the letter read.
With so many people desperate to leave Afghanistan and few places for them to go, U.S. evacuation from the country were stalled on Friday after reaching 3, 000 on Thursday and 13, 000 since August 14.
The situation caused uncertainty and increased anxiety at Kabul airport on Friday and video clips from the scene showed Afghans being beaten by Taliban fighters as they sought to flee the city.
Spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Shabia Mantoo also expressed concern about the risk of human rights violations against civilians, especially women and girls, calling on neighbouring countries to keep their borders open in light of the evolving crisis in the country.
“The vast majority of Afghans are not able to leave the country through regular channels. UNHCR welcomes the efforts of several states to protect at-risk Afghan nationals through bilateral evacuation programmes.
“These bilateral evacuation programmes should not, however, overshadow or substitute for an urgent, and wider international humanitarian response,” she said.