Kabul in Chaos as Countdown to Exit Begins

The Afghan capital of Kabul is facing chaotic scenes with explosions outside Hamid Karzai International Airport amid ongoing efforts to evacuate foreign citizens and Afghan allies from the country.

While the deadline for the final withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops from Afghanistan is August 31, there were clear indications on Thursday that several western governments will cease rescue operations before then.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed on Thursday that an explosion had taken place outside the airport. He later confirmed that there was at least one other explosion near the Baron Hotel.

"We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can," Kirby wrote.

The U.K.'s Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said earlier on Thursday that there was intelligence indicating a terrorist attack on Kabul airport that could take place within hours.

Heappey told Sky News: "Intelligence over the course of the week has got ever more certain around the highly credible, imminent, lethal attack on the airport or the handling centers being used by western forces."

The U.K.'s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office - the equivalent of the State Department - also warned of "an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack" and advised people not to go to the airport but to move to a safe location and await further advice.

Reports earlier on Thursday suggested that shots had been fired at an Italian military airplane departing Kabul, however, an Italian government source later said shots had been fired by Afghan forces to disperse the crowd and the aircraft was not a target.

President Joe Biden had previously warned that there could be an attack on the airport by ISIS-K, an Afghanistan-based affiliate of the terrorist group ISIS, if U.S. forces stayed in the country after August 31.

The explosion came as several western governments in Afghanistan have ended evacuation operations or indicated that they will do so before the August 31 deadline.

The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday that the last British evacuation flight could take place within "24 to 36 hours" of publication, meaning they would end before this weekend. This has not been confirmed, however.

The governments of Poland and Belgium have ended their evacuation efforts. Poland has assisted other governments with their evacuations, including Lithuania, Estonia, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Germany.

The Danish government said their last evacuation flight left Kabul on Thursday.

Denmark's Defense Minister Trine Bramsen said: "It is no longer safe to fly in or out of Kabul."

The Dutch government expects its last evacuation flight to leave Kabul on Thursday and will have to leave some eligible people behind in Afghanistan.

In a letter to the Dutch parliament, the country's government wrote: "The Netherlands has been informed by the United States that it has to depart today and will most likely perform the last flights later today."

"This is a painful moment because it means that despite all the great efforts of the past period, people who are eligible for evacuation to the Netherlands will be left behind," the government said.

Evacuation operations in Kabul will not be wrapping up in 36 hours. We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission. #HKIA

— John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) August 26, 2021

French Prime Minister Jean Castex told RTL radio that France's evacuation could not continue beyond Friday.

"As of tomorrow evening, we will no longer be able to proceed with evacuations from Kabul airport," Castex said on Thursday.

Spain's operation is also due to end on Friday and government sources to El Pais they had committed to "not leave anyone behind."

Members of the Irish Army Ranger Wing, who had been dispatched to Kabul airport on Tuesday to assist with the evacuation of Irish citizens and visa holders, will return to Ireland on Thursday.

The Turkish government began evacuating troops on Wednesday and a spokesperson for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the process could take up to 36 hours. However, the Taliban has asked Turkey for technical assistance in running Kabul airport, so some Turkish personnel may remain in the country.

It appears that U.S. forces will remain up to the deadline, however, with John Kirby taking to Twitter on Thursday morning to deny reports that evacuation efforts would cease in 36 hours.

"Evacuation operations in Kabul will not be wrapping up in 36 hours. We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission," Kirby said.

 French Flight Crew Pictured Following an Evacuation
The crew of an A400M military transport aircraft poses after evacuating people from Kabul as part of the operation "Apagan" at the French military air base 104 of Al Dhafra, near Abu Dhabi, on August 23, 2021. France's evacuation operation is due to end on Friday as several countries have already concluded their efforts. BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images