US forces will “have to coordinate” with the Taliban after a deadly suicide blast marred the evacuation of Afghanistan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.
“Look, I’m not trying to sugarcoat what we think of the Taliban,” Psaki told reporters. “They are not a group we trust. They are not our friends. We have never said that.”
Psaki’s comments came in the wake of a pair of suicide bomb blasts that killed at least 13 US service members and 60 Afghans in the country, which has rapidly fallen into Taliban control.
“It is also the reality that the Taliban controls large swaths of Afghanistan,” Psaki said, “and to date, because of coordination with the Taliban, we’ve been able to evacuate more than 104,000 people [since the end of July] — save 104,000 lives — and that coordination is necessary in order to continue our evacuation measures.”
The attacks, which were claimed by the ISIS-K terror group, targeted crowds of people who have flocked to the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport outside Kabul in recent days, hoping to catch flights out of the country.
The first explosion was outside the airport’s Abbey Gate, while the second blast went off 200 yards away at a hotel where Americans, Britons and Afghans have been told to gather before being taken to the airport.
In the days since their fighters entered Kabul Aug. 15, the Taliban have established a series of checkpoints around the airport and have drawn international outrage by assaulting Americans and Afghans who attempt to pass — even if they have the necessary paperwork.
During a Pentagon news conference earlier Thursday, the head of US Central Command suggested that a screening failure by the Taliban allowed the bombers to approach the airport.
Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie told reporters the US had asked Taliban commanders to tighten security around the perimeter of the airport, though he added that there wasn’t anything to convince him they let the attack happen.
“As to whether or not I trust them … They have a practical reason for wanting us to get out of here by the 31st of August,” McKenzie said. “They want to reclaim the airfield. We want to get out by that day, too, if it’s possible to do so.”
“So we share a common purpose,” he went on. “As long as we keep that common purpose alive, they’ve been useful to work with. They’ve cut some of our security concerns down and they’ve been useful to work with going forward.”
McKenzie insisted that the evacuation would continue until its scheduled end date of Aug. 31 despite the bloody attacks.
“Any time you build a noncombatant evacuation plan like this and you bring in forces, you expect to be attacked,” he said. “We thought this would happen sooner or later. It’s tragic that happened today … I think we can continue to conduct our mission even while we’re receiving attacks like this.”
The bombers struck hours after US Embassy staff in Kabul warned Americans not to come to the airport due to terror threats and told those waiting at the gates to “leave immediately.” Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport.
At the White House, Psaki touted the fact that more than 7,000 had been flown out from Afghanistan in the previous 12 hours.
“That is while there was active attacks that were happening,” she said. “Those are individuals who were let through gates, who were let onto planes and got us well over 100,000 evacuated.
“Again, this is not about trust, this is not about relying on the Taliban as an equal partner. No one is suggesting that,” Psaki went on. “But because they control large swathes of the country, including a lot of the security perimeters around the airport, we have to coordinate with them in order to get people out. We’ll continue to do that.”
With Post wires
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