Scott Simon talks to Al Jazeera English correspondent Charlotte Bellis about the latest on the U.S. drone strike on ISIS-K in Afghanistan. The group is behind Thursday’s attack on Kabul’s airport.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The days U.S. troops have left in Afghanistan can now be counted on a hand. The Pentagon said at a press briefing today U.S. troops have started drawing down inside Hamid Karzai International Airport, that Americans and some Afghans are still being evacuated, with many Afghans gathering outside the airport gates, where they can be vulnerable to terrorist attacks. A U.S. drone strike on Friday in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province was swift retribution against ISIS-K, the group said to be responsible for Thursday’s airport attack. The Pentagon also said the targets were ISIS-K planners and facilitators but would not confirm if they had planned that attack at the airport.
Al-Jazeera correspondent Charlotte Bellis joins us from Kabul. Charlotte, thanks so much for being with us.
CHARLOTTE BELLIS: No problem.
SIMON: What does it look like at the airport now?
BELLIS: Well, I actually just left the airport. We went to the north perimeter of the airport, which was taken over by the Taliban today, until about 7 o’clock this morning Kabul time. We went there this afternoon, and the Taliban escorted us into the airport, which was quite a shock. We walked past control towers, and we saw Americans looking down on us while the Taliban had dozens of men right below these towers. They are mere meters apart from each other at this point. And the Taliban stood there and watched as C-17s flew over their heads. And it was incredibly symbolic and powerful to see.
SIMON: Well, let me put a point on this. The Taliban was in charge?
BELLIS: They were in charge. In fact, my cameraman said, can we film the Americans in the tower? And the Taliban said, well, we’re the boss now, so go for it, although they were very disciplined in saying, you know, the Americans are here, they are here and they are there in the airport now.
SIMON: Have you been able to speak to any of the people who are trying to get out?
BELLIS: Yeah, many, many people. And there is a lot of desperation. They know the clock’s ticking. And now evacuations are very much – you know, there’s hardly anyone really getting through at this point. There were thousands of people inside the airport, essentially a big backlog that they’re now clearing and getting those people onto planes. So as far as getting through the gates at this point, it’s very, very difficult even if you have a U.S. visa or the correct paperwork. They’re just closing everything down and focusing more now on troop withdrawal and getting the equipment out.
SIMON: Charlotte, the Taliban said that they would like to ensure, that they would ensure the safety and security of Afghan people. Does the ISIS-K attack at the airport cast doubt on that, their ability to deliver on that?
BELLIS: My interpretation from being at the airport many times over the last few weeks is that the Taliban were completely overwhelmed. They, as far as I could tell, hadn’t been trained in crowd control. They were just shooting in the air, beating people. They started using water cannon in the last few days. But before that, they were just using brute force to push people back. There were no checks. And there were thousands upon thousands of people crowding around the perimeter, and you can imagine how many miles a perimeter of an airport is. They just didn’t have the means to do it.
Since the ISIS attack, they have actually done a better job of securing the perimeter. They’ve pushed people back and put barbed wire to keep people away. And they have actually started managing it better, but it’s, you know, too little, too late.
SIMON: Al-Jazeera correspondent Charlotte Bellis in Kabul, thanks so much.
BELLIS: Thanks for having me.
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