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Armed forces minister James Heappey said the UK will run 11 flights out of Kabul in the next 24 hours before it begins withdrawing troops, amid warnings of a “credible, imminent and lethal” threat of terrorist attacks on the airport.
The foreign office issued new guidance on Wednesday night urging anyone near the airport to “move away to a safe location and await further advice”.
Heappey told LBC radio that an attack was feared within “hours” as he set out the severity of the situation, and said he had been given briefing lines for if an attack happened while he was doing the interview.
Australia and the US have issued similar warnings to their citizens as people race to flee the country ahead of the 31 August deadline for the departure of foreign troops.
“I can’t share with you the exact detail of what the threat is but I can say that over the course of the week, the credibility of the reporting has reached the stage where we believe that there is a very imminent highly lethal attack possible within Kabul,” Heappey told BBC Breakfast.
“As a consequence, we’ve had to change the travel advice to advise people not to come to the airport.”
He said officials in the area were “desperately trying to protect” those who had “ignored the advice and remained in the queue” to access the airport or attend a UK processing centre at a hotel in the area.
But he stressed that this should not encourage others to follow suit, and warned that he was “not able to guarantee” that those not currently at the airport could be evacuated.
“I can’t stress the desperation of the situation enough. There is a threat. It is credible. It is imminent. It is lethal,” Heappey continued.
“We wouldn’t be saying this if we weren’t genuinely concerned about offering the Islamic State a target. That is just unimaginable.”
There are concerns that the ISIS-K group — an offshoot of the Islamic State terrorist group that once held territory in northern Syria and Iraq, and is a sworn enemy of the Taliban — is planning attacks on crowds outside the airport.
1,988 people were evacuated on 8 RAF flights in the past 24 hours, the minister confirmed, with a further 11 flights expected to take place on Thursday.
Foreign troops are expected to withdraw from Afghanistan from 31 August after US President Joe Biden refused to extend the deadline after the country fell to the Taliban.
Boris Johnson said that the G7 has a “roadmap” to deal with the Taliban regime alongside a joint approach on evacuation.
“The number one condition we’re setting as G7 is that they have got to guarantee, right the way through, through August 31 and beyond, safe passage for those who want to come out,” Johnson said in a statement to media following the summit last week.
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