The Pentagon has confirmed that U.S. troops engaged the gunman who opened fire on Afghan security forces at the Kabul airport in an incident late Sunday that left one Afghan soldier dead and several Afghans wounded.
Navy Capt. William Urban, spokesperson for CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command), said in an Aug. 23 statement that no American or coalition troops were injured in the exchange of fire.
The incident took place outside the north gate of the airport, where a frenzied evacuation is underway following a rapid Taliban takeover that left only the Hamid Karzai International Airport under the control of coalition troops.
Identified only as an “unknown hostile actor,” the gunman opened fire on Afghan security forces who were monitoring access to the gate, Urban said.
“The Afghans returned fire, and in keeping with their right of self-defense, so too did U.S. and coalition troops,” he said.
“One member of the Afghan forces was killed by the hostile actor; several Afghans were wounded during the exchange. The wounded are being treated at an airfield hospital and are reported to be in stable condition,” he added.
Twenty people have died in the chaos at the airport in recent days as crowds of Afghans and foreigners throng the gates and perimeters, following a Taliban blitz that left all but the airport and the Panjshir Valley in the north of Afghanistan outside the control of the extremist group.
Some people were trampled to death as they tried to escape the country in fear of reprisals for assisting Western troops.
Taliban members beat back crowds at the airport on Aug. 22, the day after seven died in a crush at the airport gates, desperate to board the last planes before the final withdrawal of foreign troops by an Aug. 31 deadline.
While President Joe Biden has said he believes the evacuation will be completed by the deadline, he has not ruled out an extension, a move the Taliban oppose.
Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told Sky News: “It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.”
“If the U.S. or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations—the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” he said.
“It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction,” he added.
The Taliban have begun talks on forming a government, while its forces focus on the last pockets of opposition. Meanwhile, its spokesmen try to paint a picture of a more moderate, tolerant regime than the one of 20 years ago.
Anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Massoud said on Aug. 23 he hoped to hold talks with the Taliban, but that his forces were ready to fight in the Panjshir Valley.
The Panjshir Valley, a stronghold of Taliban opponents, is now surrounded by Taliban forces, which have also retaken three districts in the northern province of Baghlan.
Reuters, PA, and Simon Veazey contributed to this report.
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he’s ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: ‘Hit your target’ and ‘leave the best for last.’