Meanwhile, the US military said it killed two high-profile Daesh targets and left another wounded early on Saturday in a drone strike, after US President Joe Biden had promised swift retaliation.

Taliban fighters block a road with a Humvee vehicle near Kabul airport on August 28, 2021.
Taliban fighters block a road with a Humvee vehicle near Kabul airport on August 28, 2021. (AFP)

The Taliban has deployed extra forces around Kabul's airport to prevent large crowds from gathering after a devastating suicide attack two days earlier, as the massive US-led airlift wound down ahead of an August 31 deadline.

New layers of checkpoints sprang up on roads leading to the airport, some manned by uniformed Taliban fighters with Humvees and night-vision goggles captured from Afghan security forces. Areas where large crowds of people have gathered over the past two weeks in hopes of fleeing the country following the Taliban takeover were largely empty.

A suicide attack on Thursday by an Daesh affiliate killed 169 Afghans and 13 US service members, and there are concerns that the group, which is far more radical than the Taliban, could strike again. 

The US military said it killed two high-profile Daesh targets and left another wounded early Saturday in a drone strike, after US President Joe Biden had promised swift retaliation.

No civilians were hurt in the attack which followed the suicide bombing, Major General Hank Taylor told a news conference.

The Pentagon declined to say if the people targeted in the US strike were directly involved in the suicide bombing.

"They were ISIS-K planners and facilitators. That's enough reason there alone," said spokesman John Kirby.

READ MORE: US drone strike targets Daesh in Afghanistan after deadly Kabul attack

Stripped off belongings

On Saturday, the Taliban fired warning shots and deployed some kind of coloured smoke on a road leading to the airport, sending dozens of people scattering, according to a video circulating online that was consistent with AP reporting.

"We have lists from the Americans... if your name is on the list, you can come through," one Taliban official told AFP near the civilian passenger terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The men and women were separated and made to walk on opposite sides of the road, but both groups carried infants or led children by the hand – some oblivious to their ordeal and skipping as if on an adventure.

Everyone was stripped of their luggage apart from what they could keep in a plastic bag – but a Taliban official was quick to offer an explanation.

"Because of the blast, the Americans won't let them take anything," he said .

"We tell them to take the money and the gold in their pockets. If they leave clothes we will give to other people."

More than 110,000 people have been safely evacuated through the Kabul airport since the Taliban takeover, according to the US, including around 6,800 in the last 24 hours. But thousands more are struggling to leave and may not make it out by Tuesday.

READ MORE: Last-ditch evacuations resume as toll from deadly Kabul blasts crosses 100

Evacuations wind down

Many Western nations have already completed their evacuation operations ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for the withdrawal of all US forces. 

France ended its evacuations from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan late Friday, officials said.

The airlift had to be stopped because "the security conditions were no longer being met at the airport", Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly said in the wake of Thursday's attack, which killed scores of Afghan civilians and 13 US troops.

In a statement, the ministers blamed the lack of security on the "rapid disengagement of the American forces".

Separately, Parly tweeted that the French forces had managed to fly around 3,000 people out of Afghanistan before their airlift operation was halted.

"In less than two weeks, the French military has brought some 3,000 people to safety, including more than 2,600 Afghans," she tweeted.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that discussions were underway with the Taliban through Qatar to "protect and repatriate" Afghans at risk since this month's takeover by the group.

Evacuations are planned jointly with Qatar and may involve "airlift operations", Macron said after a summit in Baghdad.

Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, said on Saturday that the time had come to end an airlift which had evacuated almost 15,000 Afghan and British citizens over the past two weeks.

"It's time to close this phase of the operation down but we haven't forgotten the people who still need to leave, and we will do everything we can to help them," he said in a statement at Kabul airport released by Britain's foreign ministry. 

READ MORE: Can the US ever quit Afghanistan?

Dependence on external aid 

Hundreds of protesters in Kabul, including many civil servants, gathered outside a bank while countless more lined up at cash machines. The protesters said they had not been paid for the past three to six months and were unable to withdraw cash. ATM machines are still operating, but withdrawals are limited to around $200 every 24 hours.

Later Saturday, the central bank ordered commercial bank branches to open and dispense up to $200 a day to customers, calling it a temporary measure.

The economic crisis, which predates the Taliban takeover earlier this month, could give Western nations leverage as they urge Afghanistan's new rulers to form a moderate, inclusive government and allow people to leave after Tuesday.

Afghanistan is heavily dependent on international aid, which covered around 75 percent of the toppled Western-backed government's budget. The Taliban have said they want good relations with the international community and have promised a more moderate form of rule than when they last governed the country, but many Afghans are deeply skeptical.

The Taliban cannot access almost any of the central bank’s $9 billion in reserves, most of which is held by the New York Federal Reserve. The International Monetary Fund has also suspended the transfer of some $450 million. Without a regular supply of US dollars, the local currency is at risk of collapse, which could send the price of basic goods soaring.

A UN agency meanwhile warned that a worsening drought threatens the livelihoods of more than 7 million people. The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation said Afghans are also suffering from the coronavirus pandemic and displacement from the recent fighting.

Earlier this month, the UN World Food Programme estimated that some 14 million people – roughly one out of every three Afghans – urgently need food assistance.

READ MORE: US: No chance of quick recognition of Taliban government

Source: TRTWorld and agencies