Clashes erupt in Northern Afghanistan as Taliban pursue talks with former foes | Mint

Clashes erupt in Northern Afghanistan as Taliban pursue talks with former foes

A Taliban fighter stands guard at a checkpoint in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. (AP)
A Taliban fighter stands guard at a checkpoint in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. (AP)

Summary

  • Thousands try to reach Kabul airport to flee the new regime where evacuation flights continue

The Taliban engaged in overnight battles with the budding resistance forces in northern Afghanistan as political negotiations on a broader government moved ahead in Kabul and access to the city’s U.S.-run airport remained difficult for thousands of Afghans trying to flee the country’s new regime.

While most of Afghanistan’s army and security forces collapsed, some of the Taliban’s most dedicated foes have retreated to the Panjshir valley northeast of Kabul, pledging to continue the fight. They include the fallen Afghan republic’s defense minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi; Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who claims to be Afghanistan’s legitimate leader after President Ashraf Ghani abandoned his duties and fled the country last Sunday; and Ahmad Massoud, a son of famous Panjshiri commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Video posted on social media showed casualties and fighting between Taliban forces and anti-Taliban militias in the Andarab valley of the northern Baghlan province, and large convoys of Taliban reinforcements in U.S.-bought Ford Rangers and Humvees flying the Islamist movement’s white flag. It isn’t clear whether the clashes heralded a nascent civil war or were just a way by the Panjshiri establishment, which played a powerful role in post-2001 Afghanistan, to press the Taliban for a share of a new government. Without outside support or access to a border with a friendly nation, the anti-Taliban militias would find it difficult to hold out for long.

“We will fight. Our resistance will continue," prominent Tajik warlord Atta Mohammad Noor, who fled to Uzbekistan when the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif fell on Aug. 14, promised in a video address. It was in the Taliban’s interest, he added, not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to create a “meaningful" inclusive government. “We will not become slaves of outsiders," he added. “We will not go to others’ tables for decoration, we want to be a partner in power."

Though the Taliban have never dismantled the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that they proclaimed in 1996, they are pursuing consultations with major Afghan politicians who have remained in Kabul. A broader administration stands a much better chance of achieving international diplomatic recognition, something that would allow Afghanistan to be reconnected to the global financial system, resume commercial flights abroad, or regain access to foreign aid.

The head of the Taliban’s political office, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kabul on Saturday after first stopping in Kandahar, the Islamist movement’s birthplace. Taliban leaders have been engaged in talks with Afghan politicians who have remained in Kabul after Mr. Ghani’s Aug. 15 escape, such as former President Hamid Karzai, former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

As part of a public-relations push, the Taliban have released videos of some of the deposed Afghan republic’s key personalities pledging allegiance to the Islamist movement in the presence of fighters and clerics. On Sunday, Gul Agha Sherzai, a longtime U.S. ally, minister and governor, appeared in one such video, following a similar appearance by Mr. Ghani’s brother Hashmat Ghani.

Another prominent politician of the fallen Afghan republic, former finance minister Omar Zakhilwal, returned from a trip abroad this week, posting pictures of himself sipping tea with Taliban fighters southeast of Kabul, and then meeting with Messrs. Karzai and Abdullah in the capital. “Agreed that we would work closely together & tirelessly to help with the creation of an environment in which all the Afghans, regardless of their background, are comfortable," he tweeted. “I remain optimistic for the future of our country!"

Many other Afghans don’t share this optimism. Tens of thousands are trying to leave via the U.S.-run Kabul airport. Inside the facility, families who have been kept for days in holding areas without food or shelter awaited their flights Sunday. There was sporadic gunfire at the gates overnight. The U.S. military was on edge after receiving reports that Islamic State may have infiltrated the perimeter.

One woman, a 27-year-old accountant called Muska, was on the run with her husband and one-year-old baby after having spent several days at the U.S.-run side of the airport.

Muska said they had run out of food, and the soldiers on duty there had told her there was no formula available for the baby. Her phone battery was on 13 percent, there was no access to electricity and she was worried that her son needed medical attention after days in the heat without shelter.

“I need to breast-feed him, but because I didn’t eat anything I don’t have milk to breast-feed my baby. I can see my baby has lost weight, he is not well," she said.

Seven people have been killed amid the chaos at the airport, the British Ministry of Defense said Sunday, calling the conditions on the ground “extremely challenging." The U.K. said it had evacuated 4,000 people from Kabul since Aug. 13.

In the face of mounting challenges at the airport and uncertainty over how long the air bridge would stay open, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace on Sunday acknowledged that the country wouldn’t be able to get out all Afghan citizens eligible for evacuation.

Writing for the U.K. newspaper the Mail on Sunday, Mr. Wallace said the 1,000 British troops currently in Kabul to assist in evacuation efforts would work with the U.S. to help get people out “as long as the security situation allows," but added that “no nation will be able to get everyone out" of Afghanistan.

European officials have complained about U.S. troops blocking access to Kabul airport for some of their Afghan allies and staff, even those with the required paperwork.

“The problem is access to the airport," European Union foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said Saturday. “The American control and security measures are very strict. We protested. We asked them to show more flexibility. We do not manage to pass our own partners."

Some allies raised the situation at a video meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers on Friday, according to officials present. One diplomat called it “a fiasco," the officials said.

Others said the situation had improved in recent days, and that the main complaints were among smaller allies who have limited resources on the ground.

Still, European allies are concerned that they won’t be able to complete evacuations before the U.S. withdrawal deadline at the end of the month.

The largest—the U.K., France and Germany—urged the U.S. at the NATO meeting to retain a military presence as long as necessary for evacuations.

European officials said they hadn’t received a clear signal from President Biden whether he was prepared to extend the U.S. deadline.

“If the Americans leave, the Europeans will not have the military capability to seize and secure the military airport and the Taliban will take control," Mr. Borrell said.

The Biden administration is planning a dramatic ramp-up of its airlift from Kabul by making preparations to compel major U.S. airlines to help with the transportation of tens of thousands of evacuees from Afghanistan, while expanding the number of U.S. military bases that could house Afghans.

The White House is expected to consider activating the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, or CRAF, created in 1952 in the wake of the post-World War II Berlin Airlift, to provide nearly 20 commercial jets from up to five airlines to augment U.S. military efforts to transport Afghan evacuees from bases in the region, according to U.S. officials.

Currently, many of the Afghans at risk are flown by U.S. and Qatari aircraft from Kabul to the Persian Gulf nation. Qatar has facilitated, among others, the evacuation of 76 Afghan staff of The Wall Street Journal and their families. The United Arab Emirates said that it would take 5,000 Afghans for processing to third destinations, and Spain and Germany have allowed the use of U.S. bases there to temporarily house Afghan refugees.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

 

 

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