The Latest: US-bound evacuee flights depart Italy

MILAN — Aircraft carrying U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals evacuated from the chaos in Afghanistan have left Italy headed to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

A joint statement from the Naval Air Station in Sigonella and the U.S. Embassy in Rome did not specify how many flights nor how many passengers departed Sunday on the first flights from the U.S. base, saying only that the flights departed at full capacity.

They were bound for Philadelphia International Airport and Dulles International Airport. Sigonella is one of the overseas U.S. bases designated as a stopover for Afghan nationals eligible to be brought to the United States due to work with coalition forces or Western organizations.

The Naval Air Station has designated two barracks buildings and other temporary lodging for the evacuees, each including halal dining, religious and recreational areas. Medical care is being provided, the statement said, and an imam has made daily visits.

The evacuees include hundreds of children, each of whom has received a stuffed toy, clothing and other necessities.

___

MORE ON AFGHANISTAN:

Family: Taliban kills Afghan folk singer in restive province

Biden: Another attack likely, pledges more strikes on IS

Slain Marine who cradled baby at Kabul airport loved her job

Taliban success in Afghanistan seen as boost for extremists

— Explainer: How dangerous is Afghanistan’s Islamic State?

___

— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say an American drone strike has hit a vehicle carrying multiple Islamic State suicide bombers heading for the Kabul airport. A military official said the strike on Sunday caused “significant secondary explosions” indicating the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material in the vehicle.

Two senior U.S. officials said the U.S. believes it was a successful strike and that the intended target was hit. This is the second airstrike the U.S. has conducted against the militant group, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing Thursday at the Kabul airport gate that killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans struggling to get out of the country and escape the new Taliban rule.

The officials said Sunday that initial reports indicate there were no civilian casualties caused by the airstrike, but one official said they are assessing reports of any other collateral damage.

There have been reports of an explosion at a house near the airport, but it wasn’t clear the two explosions were connected. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.

___

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan police chief says a rocket has struck a neighborhood northwest of Kabul’s international airport amid the U.S. evacuation there, killing a child.

Rashid, the Kabul police chief who like many Afghans goes by one name, says the rocket struck Sunday afternoon.

No group immediately claimed the attack. The rocket fire comes as the United States winds down a historic airlift that saw tens of thousands evacuated from Kabul’s international airport, the scene of much of the chaos that engulfed the Afghan capital since the Taliban took over two weeks ago.

After an Islamic State affiliate’s suicide attack that killed over 180 people, the Taliban increased its security around the airfield as Britain ended its evacuation flights Saturday.

___

PARIS —President Emmanuel Macron says that France and Britain plan to propose at the U.N. on Monday the creation of a “safe zone” in Kabul that would allowed for continued “humanitarian operations.”

The French leader, currently in Iraq, said Sunday that Paris and London would propose at a Security Council meeting on the crisis in Afghanistan a resolution “aimed at defining a safe zone in Kabul under U.N. control.”

his would keep pressure on the Taliban and hold the international community accountable, he said in an exclusive interview with the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche published Sunday.

It was unclear if the protection zone France and Britain envisage would be linked to eventual “targeted evacuations” that Macron spoke of on Saturday.

He said at a news conference in Baghdad that France is talking with the Taliban and Qatar about continuing evacuations after the Americans pull out on Tuesday to bring out Afghans on France’s list of potential evacuees that never made it out of the country. One possibility would be to evacuate via Kabul’s civilian airport or a neighboring country, he told the newspaper.

France ended its evacuation flights out of Kabul on Friday night after bringing out 2,834 people, mostly Afghans at risk. Britain ended its operations on Saturday.

___

BERLIN — A privately organized convoy reached the airport in Kabul with 147 people in need of protection, all of whom were evacuated Sunday morning, according to Germany’s Foreign Office.

Those evacuated via the convoy, which was operated by a German security contractor, included local staff for the German government and employees of the contractor.

The operation was conducted with help from U.S. forces, and in close communication with the German Foreign Office.

__

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled his willingness to help the Taliban develop Afghanistan.

Citing Turkey’s experience in large-scale construction and infrastructure projects, he said: “We want to help on this point … But to help, the doors need to be opened. That’s why our intelligence (agency) is currently meeting Taliban representatives.”

Speaking to journalists on a return flight from Montenegro, Erdogan stressed the importance of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and ex-Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who led talks with the Taliban. Both men remained in Kabul after its fall two weeks ago.

He said the Taliban’s “reformist approach” to issues such as women’s rights would be taken into consideration in any future negotiations.

___

KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban fighter has shot dead an Afghan folk singer in a restive mountain province under unclear circumstances. That’s according to Fawad Andarabi’s family Sunday.

The killing reignited concerns among activists that the insurgents would return to their oppressive rule in the country after their military blitz toppled the government. The slaying Friday happened in the Andarabi Valley for which he was named. It’s an area of Baghlan province some 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Kabul. The valley had seen upheaval since the Taliban takeover, with some districts in the area coming under the control of militia fighters opposed to the Taliban rule.

The Taliban previously came out to Andarabi’s home and searched it, even drinking tea with the musician, his son Jawad Andarabi told The Associated Press. But something changed Friday.

His son says he wanted justice and that a local Taliban council promised to punish his father’s killer.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the AP that the insurgents would investigate the incident, but had no other details on the killing.

___

VATICAN CITY __ Pope Francis has expressed “great worry” about the situation in Afghanistan, in particular for the suffering of those who were killed in the suicide attack outside the Kabul airport.

Speaking from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square after the traditional Sunday blessing, Francis called on everyone to “help those who have been so tried, especially women and children,” saying “solidarity brings coexistence and peace.”

The pontiff says that in historic moments like these, “we cannot remain indifferent.” He asked the faithful “to intensify prayer and fasting,” seeking “mercy and forgiveness.”

___

KABUL, Afghanistan — Former officials and lecturers at Afghanistan universities have called on the Taliban to maintain and upgrade the country’s education system instead of creating a new one.

Former minister of higher education Abas Basir said Sunday at a conference on higher education held by the Taliban that starting over is a mistake made by previous governments.

He says: “Lets not reject everything, starting a new system, we should work more on what we already have.”

Taliban caretaker higher education minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani criticized the current education system founded by the international community, saying that religious education was considered insignificant.

“World tried to take religion out of scientific education which harmed the people,” Haqqani said. He added that “every item against Islam in the educational system will be removed.”

The Taliban policy on women’s education was not clear but Tariq Kamal, chancellor of a private university, said women were very interested in some higher education fields and “we need the guidance of Taliban leadership on them.” Kamal spoke for private universities in Afghanistan.

___

LONDON — Military planes carrying British troops and diplomats from Kabul are landing at a U.K. air base after the U.K.’s two-week evacuation operation ended.

The U.K. ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, was among those who arrived Sunday at RAF Brize Norton northwest of London, hours after the government announced that all British personnel had left Kabul.

Britain says it has evacuated more than 15,000 U.K. citizens and vulnerable Afghans in the past two weeks but that as many as 1,100 Afghans who were entitled to come to the U.K. have been left behind.

Vice Adm. Ben Key, who was in charge of the British operation, said: “We tried our best.”

In a video message, Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the “colossal” effort, saying it was “a mission unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes.”

But he is facing strong criticism over the failure to bring to safety all those Afghans who helped British forces during the 20-year deployment in Afghanistan that began in the wake of 9/11.

Johnson acknowledged that Britain “would not have wished to leave in this way,” but said “we have to recognize that we came in with the United States, in defense and support of the U.S. and the U.S. military did the overwhelming bulk of the fighting.”

___

TIRANA, Albania — Two more planes have brought Afghans fearing the Taliban to Albania, bringing the total number of evacuees to 457.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday the two planes landed at dawn with 154 and 28 Afghans, respectively. Most of them will be temporarily housed at a student campus in the capital Tirana, while others were sent directly to hotels.

Albania aims to shelter all the evacuees in hotels instead of camps to give them a sense of normalcy.

Albania was among the first countries to offer housing to Afghans who have worked with U.S. and NATO forces and others fearing revenge following the Taliban takeover.

The Afghans in Albania come from different backgrounds, including activists and university staff, and include children.

___

MADRID — The U.S. Embassy in Spain says that a third flight sent by American forces to Spain has arrived at the Rota military base.

The flight arrived early Sunday with 220 evacuees from Afghanistan.

___

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. State Department is urging all Americans in the vicinity of the Afghanistan’s Kabul airport to leave the area immediately because of a specific, credible threat.

The warning early Sunday morning says U.S. citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid all airport gates at this time. It specifically noted the South (Airport Circle) gate, the new Ministry of the Interior, and the gate near the Panjshir Petrol station on the northwest side of the airport.

A suicide bombing at the airport on Thursday killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.