U.S. launches air strike in response to Kabul airport attack, ahead of full withdrawal

The U.S. launched air strikes in retaliation to the suicide attack at Kabul airport, which killed more than 100 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. troops. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack. The state department said it planned to evacuate Afghan partners even after the full withdrawal on August 31. NPR’s international affairs correspondent, Jackie Northam, joins

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on developments in Afghanistan and the region, I spoke with Jackie Northam, National Public Radio's international affairs correspondent, who is in Islamabad, Pakistan.

    Our conversation was recorded this morning when it was early evening in Islamabad.

    So, Jackie, in Islamabad, what are the concerns about the upheaval that's happening next door?

  • Jackie Northam:

    Well, one of the biggest concerns, of course, is that it will spill over into Pakistan. You know, the whole idea was, is that the Taliban was supposed to go in there and keep control. You know, it had taken the country very quickly and securely in that this attack by ISIS-K has really upended that whole notion now. So there is a huge concern, just what's going to happen? And I think that part of that is, is that the Pakistan government is concerned that the attack by ISIS-k on Thursday at the airport will embolden other groups.

    There are a lot of militant groups in this area and not all of them are targeting Afghanistan. You know, there are some have tried to target the Pakistan government here as well. So I think it's fair to say that this attack on Thursday has really upended what the Pakistanis thought might happen and certainly what the Taliban thought might happen once they took Afghanistan.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I mean, technically, there might be lines on a map, but in that region, people go back and forth pretty freely. And I don't think many people recognize or remember how many Afghans have been in Pakistan since when the Russians were there. I mean, what is Pakistan doing knowing that there might be now another wave of refugees that come across the border?

  • Jackie Northam:

    Well, the first thing that they're doing is they're building a fence because they've made it very clear that they do not want to take in thousands and thousands of Afghans trying to flee Taliban control next door. You're right. I mean, they house, they made home millions of Afghans when the Soviets were in Afghanistan. And, you know, some people do have dual passports and that. And those are the people of any Afghan has a Pakistani visa, a passport, they are allowed to come back into Pakistan.

    But right now, there are thousands amassing at certainly at one of the main borders here. You know, part of the problem is, again, they won't know who's coming across. You could have a militant coming across, for one thing. But the other problem here, too, is the economy is just in really, really bad shape. COVID hit it very hard here, 20 million Pakistanis lost their jobs. Fifty five thousand small businesses went under because of COVID. And it's just that the government here is saying we can't take on another rush of Afghans coming in from next door.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jackie, one of the big concerns that's right now seeming to divide the Republican Party anyway is how we should treat and how we should vet the Afghan refugees that are coming over. And there are also Republican senators that say, hey, you know what? These are the people who serve shoulder to shoulder. We have service records for them. That's who we are helping escape Afghanistan right now.

    From your sources on the ground there, how difficult is it for people who have served with the U.S. armed forces or NATO allies to get out, especially considering now we are hearing reports that some of the last planes, so to speak, from the U.K. and other places are leaving?

  • Jackie Northam:

    Yeah, it's still very difficult. There is still a lot of people that need to get out of Afghanistan, and that includes Americans, certainly. But, you know, the whole operation was run with the help of Afghans and whether it be translators or fixers or anything else like that, the U.S. and its allies depended on these people.

    Part of the problem was, is the process didn't get up and running fast enough. The paperwork was so cumbersome, so bureaucratic that nobody expected, even the Taliban I don't think expected they were going to seize power that quickly. And so everything had to be accelerated. But you're right. I mean, the window of opportunity is closing at Kabul Airport. And even today, you know, the U.S. embassy in Kabul is saying to Americans, no, do not go near the airport.

    There are really high risk of threats of more attacks coming in. And we're down to just a couple of days now. And they might be left behind. It's a symbol that they might still try to run some commercial aircraft in and out of there. The Taliban say they would try to facilitate that. But it is just so fluid right now and it is so utterly dangerous by that airport.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    NPR's Jackie Northam joining us from Islamabad tonight. Thanks so much.

  • Jackie Northam:

    Thank you. My pleasure.

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