Some countries halted evacuations from Afghanistan

Even before the blasts, world leaders were deciding they could no longer assist the evacuations. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Several nations announced on Thursday (Aug 26) that they were halting their evacuations from the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, as governments around the world gave dire warnings about threats to the crowds gathered there in an attempt to flee Afghanistan.

By nightfall, at least two explosions struck the area: one at the Abbey Gate and another by the nearby Baron Hotel. A Pentagon spokesman said the blasts were "a complex attack that resulted in a number of US and civilian casualties".

Even before the blasts, world leaders were deciding they could no longer assist the evacuations. Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands all said that they would no longer be able to facilitate airlifts from Hamid Karzai International Airport, which has both civilian and military sections.

"We stayed in Afghanistan as long as we could," General Wayne Eyre, Canada's acting chief of the defence staff, said at a news conference on Thursday. "We wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone who was so desperate to leave. That we could not is truly heartbreaking."

Gen Eyre said Canada had airlifted about 3,700 people out of Afghanistan on a combination of military flights and the planes of allied nations. The exact number of Canadians, permanent residents and others assisted by the Canadian military was not immediately clear, nor was the number of people left behind.

After warnings of suicide attacks in the vicinity of the airport, Belgium decided to end its evacuation flights from Kabul on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Thursday morning.

"On Wednesday, during the day, the situation quickly got worse," Mr De Croo said. "We learned that there was a threat of suicide-bomb attacks in the vicinity of the airport and in the crowds. We also saw that access to the airport gates became more difficult and even impossible as a result."

Defence officials from the Netherlands and Denmark made similar calculations. Before the explosions on Thursday, Britain urged people trying to flee Afghanistan to head for international land borders, like those with Pakistan or Iran, and to avoid the Kabul airport.

"We couldn't do anything but change the travel advice last night to advise people against moving to Kabul airport and if they are at the airport to move away to a place of safety," Mr James Heappey, the armed forces minister, said in an interview with LBC Radio.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Heappey said that Britain had evacuated just fewer than 2,000 people in the previous 24 hours but said that perhaps a further 1,000 of those it wants to extract remained inside the country.

Evacuations had continued through the increasing alarm about security. White House officials said early on Thursday that 13,400 people had been evacuated from the Kabul airport in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total since the Taleban retook the city to 95,700.

The Pentagon vowed that the US civilian airlift would continue, with spokesman John Kirby, saying, "we will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission".

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