Afghanistan crisis: Evacuation flights gather pace at Kabul airport; Russia says danger in Afghanistan remains high and more

A day after two two suicide bombings targeted the thousands of desperate people fleeing the Taliban and killed more than 100, evacuation flights from Afghanistan resumed with new urgency on Friday.

According to the Associated Press, as the call to prayer echoed through Kabul along with the roar of departing planes, the anxious crowd outside the airport was as large as ever. Dozens of Taliban members carrying heavy weapons patrolled one area about 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the airport to prevent anyone from venturing beyond.

In what was the deadliest day for American forces in Afghanistan since August 2011, the bombings near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Internation Airport on Thursday killed at least 100 Afghans and 13 US troops, Afghan and American officials said.

The Afghan offshoot of the terror organisation “Islamic State,” known as ISIS-Khorasan, IS-K or ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attacks. The group takes its name from the Khorasan Province, an area that once included wide swathes of Afghanistan, Iran and central Asia in the Middle Ages.

Afghan officials warned that the actual toll could be higher, with morgues stretched to capacity and the possibility that relatives are taking bodies away from the scene.

The news agency said that at least 10 bodies lay on the grounds outside Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, where relatives said the mortuary could take no more. . Afghans said many of the dead are unclaimed because family members are travelling from distant provinces.

China condemns Kabul attacks, keeps embassy open

China says it condemns the attacks on Kabul airport and is “ready to work with the international community to address the threat of terrorism and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a source of terrorism again”.

The comments from Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Friday afternoon were Beijing’s first comments on the suicide bombings near the Kabul airport. The spokesperson said that no Chinese national was killed or injured in the attacks and that China had advised its citizens in the country to “strengthen security precautions.”

Despite the chaos since the Taliban took over, China has kept its embassy in Kabul open and recently hosted talks between the Taliban and its ambassador. “The head of the Afghan Taliban has made it clear to China that he will never allow any forces to use Afghan territory to do things detrimental to China,” Zhao was quoted as saying by AP.

Russia says danger in Afghanistan remains high

The Kremlin has said that danger remained high for everyone in Afghanistan after the Kabul airport attack and that Islamic State and other militant groups were trying to capitalise on the chaos in the country.

Kabul blast

Russia’s intelligence services are working round the clock to prevent any spillover into neighbouring regions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

UK says it’s in last stages of Kabul evacuations

The British Defence Ministry said its forces have entered the final stages of evacuating people from Kabul’s airport and have closed processing facilities.

 

The effort would now focus on evacuating British nationals and others who have already been cleared to leave and are already at the airport, the ministry said. No further people would be called forward to the airport for evacuation, it said.

“It is with deep regret that not everyone has been able to be evacuated during this process,” Defence Minister Ben Wallace said in a statement.

‘Will hunt you down’: Biden warns Kabul airport attackers

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden vowed to complete the evacuation of American citizens and others from Afghanistan despite the deadly suicide bomb attacks at the Kabul airport. He also promised to avenge the deaths, declaring to the extremists responsible: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”

Speaking with emotion from the White House, Biden said the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate was to blame for the attacks that killed 13 American service members and many more Afghan civilians. He said there was no evidence they colluded with the Taliban, who now control the country.

“We have some reason to believe we know who they are,” he said of the bombers and gunmen involved. “Not certain.”

He said he had instructed military commanders to develop plans to strike IS “assets, leadership and facilities.”

“We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place of our choosing,” Biden said, adding, “These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans; we will get our Afghan allies out, and our mission will go on. America will not be intimidated.”



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Real Madrid increase bid for PSG’s Mbappe to 180 million euros: Reports

Real Madrid have increased their offer to sign Paris St Germain forward Kylian Mbappe to 180 million euros ($211.48 million) after having an initial 160 million euro bid rejected, French newspaper L’Equipe reported on Thursday.

L’Equipe said the amount would include 10 million euros in bonuses. Sky Sports had earlier reported an improved second bid of 170 million euros.

Spanish and French media reported on Tuesday that Real Madrid had made a bid for the 22-year-old World Cup winner, who scored 42 goals in all competitions for PSG last season and has reportedly said he wants to move to Spain.PSG sporting director Leonardo had said the 160 million euro bid was “not sufficient” and that Mbappe, who has one year left on his current deal, would only leave on the Ligue 1 club’s terms.

“We’ve always been very clear… the situation, the position of the club,” PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi told BeIN Sports at the Champions League group stage draw, where the French club were drawn alongside last year’s runners-up Manchester City.

“We’re not going to repeat it every time. You know our position, it has not changed.

“Mbappe joined PSG from AS Monaco in 2017, initially on loan and then permanently a year later in a deal valued at 180 million euros.

Leonardo added that PSG were not willing to let Mbappe go for a fee that was less than what they had paid to sign him from Monaco, as they still owe them money from the 2017 transfer.

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Several US marines killed, injured in blasts near Kabul airport

Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover. At least 13 people were killed and 15 wounded, Russian officials said.

Several Marines were killed and a number of other American military were wounded, a US official said. It was not clear if those deaths were included in the Russian toll.

One of the bombers struck people standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water. Those who moments earlier had hoped to get on flights out could be seen carrying the wounded to ambulances in a daze, their own clothes darkened with blood.

A US official said the complex attack was believed to have been carried out by the Islamic State group. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan is far more radical than the Taliban, who recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz and condemned the attack.

Western officials had warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport, but that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the US officially ends its 20-year presence on Aug. 31.

At least 13 people died and 15 were wounded, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which gave the first official casualty count. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also confirmed the blasts and said there were casualties, including among members of the military, but gave no figure. He said one explosion was near an airport entrance and another was a short distance away by a hotel.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing military operations, said several Marines were killed. It wasn’t clear if other US military troops were among the dead. American officials have said that information is still coming in and they are trying to determine exact numbers of casualties.

Even as the area was hit, evacuation flights continued to take off from Kabul airport.

Adam Khan was waiting nearby when he saw the first explosion outside what’s known as the Abbey gate. He said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who were maimed.

The second blast was at or near Baron Hotel, where many people, including Afghans, Britons and Americans, were told to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation.

A former Royal Marine who runs an animal shelter in Afghanistan says he and his staff were caught up in the aftermath of the blast near the airport.

“All of a sudden we heard gunshots and our vehicle was targeted, had our driver not turned around he would have been shot in the head by a man with an AK-47,” Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing told Britain’s Press Association news agency.

Farthing is trying to get staff of his Nowzad charity out of Afghanistan, along with the group’s rescued animals.

He is among thousands trying to flee. Over the last week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most searing images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the Taliban’s takeover, as flight after flight took off carrying those who fear a return to the militants’ brutal rule. When the Taliban were last in power, they confined women largely to their home and widely imposed draconian restrictions.

Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and begun to withdraw their soldiers and diplomats, signaling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. The Taliban have insisted foreign troops must be out by America’s self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31 and the evacuations must end then, too.

In Washington, US President Joe Biden spent much of the morning in the secure White House Situation Room where he was briefed on the explosions and conferred with his national security team and commanders on the ground in Kabul.

Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from IS, which has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during its advance through Afghanistan.

Shortly before the attack, the acting U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was “clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling.” But in an interview with ABC News, he would not give details.

Late Wednesday, the US Embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that any attack was imminent at the airport, where the group’s fighters have deployed and occasionally used heavy-handed tactics to control the crowds. After the attack, he appeared to shirk blame, noting the airport is controlled by US troops.

Before the blast, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at those gathered at one airport gate to try to drive the crowd away, as someone launched tear gas canisters elsewhere.

Nadia Sadat, a 27-year-old Afghan, carried her 2-year-old daughter with her outside the airport. She and her husband, who had worked with coalition forces, missed a call from a number they believed was the State Department and were trying to get into the airport without any luck. Her husband had pressed ahead in the crowd to try to get them inside.

“We have to find a way to evacuate because our lives are in danger,” Sadat said. “My husband received several threatening messages from unknown sources. We have no chance except escaping.” Aman Karimi, 50, escorted his daughter and her family to the airport, fearful the Taliban would target her because of her husband’s work with NATO.

“The Taliban have already begun seeking those who have worked with NATO,” he said. “They are looking for them house-by-house at night.” The Sunni extremists of IS, with links to the group’s more well-known affiliate in Syria and Iraq, have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.

The Taliban have fought against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have wrested back control nearly 20 years after they were ousted in a US-led invasion. The Americans went in following the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaida orchestrated while being sheltered by the group.

Amid the warnings and the pending American withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuations, and European nations halted or prepared to stop their own operations.

“The reality on the ground is the perimeter of the airport is closed. The Taliban have tightened the noose. It’s very, very difficult for anybody to get through at this point,” Canadian General Wayne Eyre, the country’s acting Chief of Defense Staff, said ahead of the attack.

Lt. Col. Georges Eiden, Luxembourg’s army representative in neighboring Pakistan, said that Friday would mark the official end for US allies. But two Biden administration officials denied that was the case.

A third official said that the US worked with its allies to coordinate each country’s departure, and some nations asked for more time and were granted it.

“Most depart later in the week,” he said, while adding that some were stopping operations Thursday. All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the information publicly.

Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen bluntly warned earlier: “It is no longer safe to fly in or out of Kabul.” Denmark’s last flight has already departed, and Poland and Belgium have also announced the end of their evacuations. The Dutch government said it had been told by the US to leave Thursday.

But Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said some planes would continue to fly.

“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,” he said in a tweet.

The Taliban have said they’ll allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the deadline next week, but it remains unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants. Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said talks were underway between his country and the Taliban about allowing Turkish civilian experts to help run the facility.



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BJP must resolve ‘inner conflict’ on caste census: Upendra Kushwaha

The Centre must conduct a caste census in view of the “popular” sentiment and the BJP should resolve its “inner conflict” evident in some leaders supporting the demand and others taking a contrary stand, a key political aide of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said here on Thursday.

The remarks came from Upendra Kushwaha, a former Union minister who is now the parliamentary board head of the JD(U) controlled by the Bihar chief minister, days after the latter met Prime Minister Narendra Modi heading an all-party delegation from the state to discuss the issue.

Bihar, where politics has been dominated by the numerically powerful OBCs, is witnessing a consolidation of sorts of parties in support of the demand ever since the Centre told Parliament that enumeration of only the SCs and the STs was under consideration.

This has left the chief minister, an old NDA partner, and his arch rival Lalu Prasad, who heads the RJD and whom he had unseated from power, on the same page.

Initially, the state BJP seemed to be in agreement with the demand and its legislators even voted in favour of the two resolutions seeking a caste based census which got passed unanimously.

However, the Centre’s recent averment has dropped signals that the top leadership might be taking a different view resulting in state leaders, especially those from the upper castes, criticising the demand for caste census, calling it a ‘divisive exercise’.

“There is conflict within the BJP over the issue. Some of its leaders are speaking in favour, some are speaking against. They need to set their house in order,” Kushwaha, who was a Union minister under Modi, said. He had briefly parted ways with Kumar and floated Rashtriya Lok Samata Party.

Kushwaha, who recently merged his RLSP with the JD(U), a move seen as part of Nitish Kumar’s strategy to consolidate his Kurmi-Koeri support base, also scoffed at suggestions that with not much time left for census, a headcount for all castes might have to wait for a decade.

“What is the problem in this digital age? You just have to insert an additional column of caste….. I do not pay much heed to pointless objections. I am hopeful that the meeting of our CM with the PM will bear fruit and the Centre will do the needful,” said Kushwaha, a strong votary of reservation politics who has been advocating quotas in the judiciary and the private sector.

The JD(U) leader, whose reported remark at a seminar here the previous day warning of a crisis within the NDA in the event of the demand for caste census going unheeded has created ripples, sought to scale down his pitch.

“We do not have any reason to think about such a scenario. Our CM has said he was hopeful of a positive response from the Centre. I share the optimism,” said Kushwaha.

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The ultimate lunch box shopping list

Everything that you need to stock up in your kitchen to make packing lunch easy.

A notebook with veggies chopped on cutting board

When you start packing school or work lunches, you’ll realize that having a few go-to ingredients in your kitchen makes packing lunch through the week possible.

This carefully put-together shopping list will ensure that your pantry & refrigerator are stocked with ingredients that’ll help you assemble nutritious meals with ease.

When I pack my kids’ school lunches, I make sure I cover each food group. For detailed information on how to do that, read how to pack a well-balanced lunch.

Fruits

I usually buy 4-5 different fruits each week. I buy bananas and berries each week while apples and oranges are on the list every other week.

  • Apples / applesauce
  • Avocados
  • Banana
  • Blueberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapes
  • Kiwis
  • Mandarin / Navel oranges
  • Melons
  • Peaches
  • Pineapples
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries (fresh/frozen)
  • Watermelons

Dry fruits

I stock up on these once a month since they are great additions to trail mixes. I always get a big bag of dates from Costco – they are great for sweetening smoothies.

  • Apricots
  • Cranberries
  • Dates
  • Dried figs
  • Raisins

Grains

We always make sure to add bread to our shopping list. We use it make sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and snacks as well.

  • Bread / Burger buns (whole wheat)
  • Popcorn
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Noodles
  • Pasta
  • Pita bread
  • Rice (Brown, Basmati)
  • Whole grain tortillas – great for quesadillas.

Protein

I always include protein in my kids’ lunch box either in the form of meat, pulses, nuts, or dairy products.

Dairy, Milk, and Cheese

  • Cheese – grated, sliced and also in the form of cheesesticks, cubes etc.
  • Milk
  • Yogurt – great for parfaits, raitas and as a substitute for sour cream.

Legumes (pulses and dals)

  • Dals
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans (kidney, black)
  • Black eyed peas

Veggies

If the veggies are not part of the main course, I always pack them as a side. Kids can be picky about veggies – always pack the ones that they like for lunch, but when at home keep encouraging them to try new ones.

  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Celery sticks
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Corn (fresh/frozen)
  • Cucumber
  • Green beans
  • Leafy greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas (frozen)
  • Potatoes
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Stir-fry veggies (frozen)
  • Sweet potato

Produce

As someone who makes Indian food a lot, I always have these in my kitchen, as they form the base of most Indian curries.

  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Ginger & Garlic
  • Cilantro
  • Green chilies

Frozen food

For days when I haven’t planned well or just want a break, I rely on these store-bought foods to make a quick lunch.

Snacks/drinks

These are some of our go-to snacks. I go over a bigger list in this post – Healthy snacks and sides to pack with school lunch.

  • Baked kettle chips
  • Pita chips
  • Skinny pop
  • Larabars
  • Coconut water
Work Lunch Shopping List

Condiments

Oils / vinegar

  • Avocado, olive, coconut oil
  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Vinegar

Canned foods

  • Pasta sauce
  • Canned Tuna
  • Broth

Spice, Spice mixes, Seasonings

I do have a lot more spices in my pantry, but these are my go-to ones.

  • Cumin seeds
  • Coriander powder
  • Cumin powder
  • Garam masala
  • Taco seasoning
  • Turmeric powder

Quick recipes to make using this pantry list

Click on the image to download a copy.

A clickable image that includes a shopping list needed to pack lunch

Helpful resources

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US Indo-Pacific Command head shares concerns over China military build-up

ON A three-day visit to India, Commander of America’s Indo-Pacific Command Admiral John Aquilino noted Wednesday that China’s military build-up is the largest by a country since the Second World War, and that the lack of clarity over its intent causes concern.

Speaking at an event organised by the Observer Research Foundation, also attended by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Aquilino, in reply to a question on China acquiring more nuclear arsenal, said he didn’t specifically look at that threat. “What I would look at is the entire Chinese way forward with regard to military expansion…. the largest military build-up in history since WW2, both conventional and nuclear, in all domains.”

Apart from Rawat, Aquilino met Army Chief General M M Naravane, Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during the course of the day.

“We continue to see that words from the PLA (China’s army) do not always match the deeds. It is one of the reasons that we are concerned,” Aquilino said, adding “the real question is not why, but what they intend to do with” their military might.

Pointing out the deterrent capability of nuclear arsenal, Rawat said India was “concerned about what is happening anywhere in the region” and developing capabilities accordingly, and that not just China, “even our western neighbour (Pakistan) has nuclear weapon systems”.

Rawat also asserted that India remained confident of “dealing with both the adversaries” in the conventional domain, adding that nuclear weapons “will only come into being if your conventional deterrence fails”. He also talked about developing Naval strength as China works on aircraft carriers, adding Beijing would try to foray beyond its immediate waters due to its aspirations of being a global power.

Acknowledging China’s growing naval capabilities, Aquilino mentioned cyber threat as another area of concern.

Saying “coordination across Quad nations, at least from a military perspective, happens every day”, Aquilino said partnership with India was “critical because we are like-minded nations”, and shared values for a rules-based international order.

Calling Indo-Pacific region the “most consequential region for our future”, he said it had “the most challenging security concerns” due to threats to freedom of navigation for all.

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