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The US carried out an air strike to protect the Kabul evacuation effort on Sunday, as the Biden administration and its European allies promised to help people leave Afghanistan after Tuesday’s deadline for withdrawal.
“US military forces conducted a self-defence unmanned over-the-horizon air strike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent Isis-K threat to Hamad Karzai International Airport,” Captain Bill Urban, a US Central Command spokesman said, referring to the local branch of the Islamist terror group.
“We are confident we successfully hit the target. Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”
Footage from the city showed a cloud of smoke above a neighbourhood in north-west Kabul, though it was not immediately clear if this was from the same attack. The US said there were no indications of civilian casualties.
The drone strike came hours after President Joe Biden warned that another terror attack in the area was “highly likely in the next 24-36 hours”. A suicide bombing on Thursday killed more than 100 Afghans and 13 US troops.
The strike highlights the risks to those involved in the final days of the western evacuation from the Afghan capital, with US officials continuing to warn of another imminent attack.
Jake Sullivan, the president’s National Security Adviser, told CNN on Sunday: “We are doing everything in our power to prevent and disrupt the threat streams that we are seeing and stopping any kind of attack that would endanger the lives of American service members or civilians trying to get into the airport.
“But all we can do is mitigate risk, we cannot eliminate it and we are in a period of serious danger, given what we are seeing in the intelligence.”
The US evacuated 2,000 people over 12 hours on Saturday, bringing the total number of people it has evacuated or helped evacuate since August 14 to more than 115,000. But the Biden administration is still hoping to evacuate hundreds more, including 300 American civilians who remain in the country.
With many experts warning that the administration will be unable to airlift out all Americans by Tuesday’s deadline, Sullivan said he remained optimistic that others could still get out afterwards with the help of the Taliban.
“After August 31, we believe we have substantial leverage to hold the Taliban to its commitments and allow safe passage to American citizens, legal permanent residents and [our] Afghan allies,” he said.
French president Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that France and the UK would begin a diplomatic push to create a safe zone in the Afghan capital for those attempting to leave the country, with a UN Security Council resolution due to be tabled on Monday. The US-led evacuation efforts are due to wrap up by Tuesday evening.
“Our draft resolution aims to establish, under UN control, a safe zone in Kabul which would allow the continuation of humanitarian operations,” he told newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.
“It’s very important. It would give a framework for the UN to take urgent action, and above all it would let us confront everyone with their responsibilities and allow the international community to maintain pressure on the Taliban.”
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, added that there would be no American diplomatic presence in Afghanistan after September 1. He told NBC News on Sunday: “Our commitment to continue to help people leave Afghanistan who want to leave and who are not out by September 1, that endures. There’s no deadline on that effort.
“And we have ways, we have mechanisms to help facilitate the ongoing departure of people from Afghanistan if they choose to leave.”
Biden travelled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday morning to formally receive the bodies of the 13 US troops who were among those killed by the blast on Thursday. The president was due to meet some of the families of those service members before their flag-draped transfer cases touched down in the US.