The United Kingdom changed its advice for refugees seeking to escape Afghanistan due to its intelligence concerns on Tuesday. These worries proved to be substantiated with the twin suicide bombings in the vicinity of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday.
The U.K.’s Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, told members of Parliament that Afghans searching to escape the country might be better off “trying to get to the border” than trying to evacuate via the airport, according to The Guardian.
Wallace made his remarks as the country made last-ditch attempts to evacuate more than 1,500 interpreters and other allies who supported the U.K. in Afghanistan.
British forces have removed over 11,000 people from Kabul in less than two weeks since Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban. This is a part of the over 80,000 people that Western countries have airlifted out of Afghanistan in total, according to the outlet.
The Guardian also reported that 19,000 people had been flown out on 90 planes in just 24 hours — an operation that could become the largest airlift in history, surpassing the 1975 Saigon evacuation.
According to the U.K. Daily Mail, when Wallace was questioned about what Afghans — specifically, those offered fellowships or student places in Great Britain — should do, he said, “If they think they can make it to a third country, that may be a better option.”
This prompted a follow-up question from a member of Parliament. Wallace replied, “I recommend that they try and make it to the border … because it is higher profile going to the airport — that is where the Taliban will be focusing their efforts at the moment.”
According to The Guardian, there was not any suggestion that those already told to travel to the airport should change their plans.
In the meeting, Wallace also would not give the exact time there would be a final evacuation flight from the U.K., but Defence sources said Tuesday that the British forces may only have 24 to 36 hours to pack up and leave. According to the Daily Mail, a U.S. order has made it so Britain must remove all of its troops before the U.S. begins its own withdrawal from Afghanistan.
If intelligence suggests more terrorist attacks might occur, should the Biden administration seek and announce other ways for people to flee Afghanistan?
“What we don’t want to do is trigger a surge or a stampede, and we’ve already seen a number of people killed,” Wallace said, according to The Guardian.
Those unable to leave via the airport will need to attempt to cross the border into either Pakistan or Iran, and the U.K. is hoping to set up “third country” processing centers. It is unknown, however, how or if this will work.
Wallace’s comments came amid the growing concerns from U.K. intelligence sources warning about the heightened risk of terrorist attacks — specifically by suicide bombing from ISIS-K, an Afghanistan-based offshoot of the terrorist group ISIS. The U.K. Foreign Office had also warned people not to travel to the airport due to the ongoing increased risk of a terrorist attack.
These security concerns were validated by Thursday’s terrorist attacks.
In the deadly attacks, 13 U.S. military members were killed, 18 were injured and numerous Afghans were killed and injured, according to Politico. Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. of the U.S. Central Command said in a media briefing that the attackers were believed to be affiliated with ISIS.
What is concerning is that Thursday’s attacks may only be the beginning as more threats may come to fruition at the airport.
It is quite possible that ISIS-K is feeling emboldened by the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and will increase its efforts to inflict as much harm and chaos on all who are in the vicinity of the evacuation efforts.
In his speech regarding the attacks Thursday, President Joe Biden finally accepted some responsibility for the Afghanistan situation. According to the official White House transcript, when asked if he bore any responsibility for what had unfolded in the past two weeks, the president said, “I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that’s happened of late.”
Unsurprisingly though, Biden then continued his answer by shifting blame to the Trump administration and its deal with the Taliban.
In his speech, the president also mentioned how his administration had been worried about and warned of the increased threat of attacks. However, the administration has not issued any updated guidance on what those seeking to escape should do.
But the U.K. sees a desperate and dangerous journey through the Afghan wilderness as a safer alternative than going to the capital airport, as the nation’s intelligence believes that more suicide bombings could occur.
Considering that the U.K. is one of our closest allies, it would be reasonable to believe that it has access to much of the same intelligence that our own agencies have. If these countries are suggesting people head to the border, it would appear that the intelligence used for the basis of that reasoning was solid. More than that, though, it must have been horrifying.
The U.K. has lost confidence in the Biden administration’s — as well as the Taliban’s — ability to secure the airport for evacuation. If that is the case, and the British see fleeing for the border as a more viable option, one can’t help but wonder if the situation is that much direr than we have been told.
More needs to be done to ensure our troops, and those within and near the airport, are safe. If we are unable to guarantee that, then there need to be additional plans in place to assist those who are desperate to leave.
We have a responsibility to ensure that all American citizens can safely leave Afghanistan, and those fleeing the Taliban should be alerted to the best options available to them. While there have been mentions of contingency plans from the White House, these still have not been communicated to the American people.
The attacks on Thursday may just be the tip of the iceberg for what these intelligence agencies fear could occur. If that is the case, there could potentially be even more bloodshed at or near the airport as the U.S. troop withdrawal deadline swiftly approaches.
The Biden administration must do whatever is necessary to ensure safe passage to U.S. citizens and allies. It must do whatever it takes, by any means necessary, to guarantee that more of this violence will not occur and that those fleeing the country are able to do so safely.