The UK has stopped taking people into Kabul airport to remove them from Afghanistan, the defence secretary, Ben Wallace has said, and the evacuation process will end in “a matter of hours”.
Accepting that there would be Afghan translators or others who worked with UK forces who would not get out, Wallace said these people would be advised to seek access to third countries or offered advice on “how they can look after themselves” under Taliban rule.
“We at 4.30 this morning, UK time, closed the Baron’s hotel, shut the processing centre, and the gates were closed at Abbey gate,” Wallace told Sky News, referring to the Kabul hotel where those leaving were checked, and the gate leading to the airport.
“We will process those people that we’ve brought with us, the 1,000 people approximately inside the airfield now, and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed and we have a matter of hours,” he added.
In another interview, Wallace said that up to 1,100 Afghan nationals who could be eligible for evacuation would be left behind.
Joe Biden has warned the masterminds of a double suicide-bomb attack in Kabul that killed 13 US troops and 72 Afghan civilians: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
On the darkest day of his presidency, Biden declined to extend his 31 August deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan but promised to evacuate any American citizens who want to leave.
US forces were on alert for further attacks by Islamic State, including possibly rockets or vehicle-borne bombs targeting the airport, said General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command.
In a televised address to the nation, the president paid tribute to the fallen as “heroes” who were “engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others”, then vowed violent retribution against the Islamic State leaders responsible.
With cold anger, he said: “To those who carried out these attacks today – as well as anyone who wishes America harm – know this: we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
He said he had ordered the Pentagon to “develop operational plans to strike Isis-K assets, leadership and facilities”, adding: “We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing.”