There is a “very high risk of a terrorist attack” against the evacuation operation by the UK, US and other allied forces in Kabul, according to a senior British source.
The group that is of most concern is an Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan called Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the source said.
The kind of attacks they are known for conducting in particular are suicide bombings, such as a car bomb or an individual blowing themselves up.
UK, US and other allied forces are particularly exposed because they do not have complete control over their own security, instead having to rely on the Taliban to help secure access to the airport.
In recent days, ministers, including the defence secretary and armed forces minister, have raised concern about the security threat to troops involved in the evacuation effort.
This morning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that about 2,000 people have been flown back to the UK from Kabul airport in the last 24 hours and that “the system is operating at full speed”.
“We will use every last remaining hour and day to get everyone we can back, the British nationals, the Afghans who worked so loyally for us, we are getting the Chevening scholars back, also women’s rights defenders and journalists.”
He added: “Mono-nationals, so single-nationality UK who have got documentation, the lion’s share, almost all of them that want to come out have been brought home.
“The ones that are remaining, and we have done an amazing job, two and a half thousand UK nationals if you go back to April… what remains are rather complex cases, large family units where one or other may be documented or may be clearly a national, but it’s not clear whether the rest of them are.”
When asked about reports the airport could switch back to allowing people to leave on civilian aircraft rather than military flights, Mr Raab said: “We do engage with the Taliban militarily on the ground, and in Doha with the political representation.
“We would like to see Kabul airport go back to being functional. That will require the security on the ground, it will require it to be done safely, and of course, it will require the Taliban to live up to their assurances about allowing safe passage out.”
Mr Raab added that time will be taken to withdraw the UK military operation in Afghanistan.
“The military planners will work out how much time they need to withdraw their equipment, their staff, and what’s really important is we will make the maximum use of all the time we have left,” he said.
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The Taliban has put an exit date of 31 August for all foreign evacuations and Boris Johnson failed to secure an extension to the US deadline for all western forces to leave during a meeting with the G7 countries on Tuesday.
A team of more than 1,000 British troops and diplomats running the UK’s evacuation mission on the ground will need a period of time to pack up their equipment and depart ahead of the final US exit date of 31 August.
It means that evacuation flights for Afghan civilians desperate to flee the country after the Taliban takeover will have to stop at least a number of days before then.
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