Taliban hamper Kabul evacuations, crack down on protests in eastern Afghanistan

Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)
Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)


  • Crowds beaten back from capital’s airport; U.A.E. says it has taken in deposed President Ashraf Ghani

Afghans and Westerners stranded in Kabul after Sunday’s Taliban takeover started trickling into the city’s U.S.-controlled airport for evacuation flights, but entry remained extremely difficult, with Taliban checkpoints pushing Afghans back and no clear system to bring people in.

The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, said Wednesday that it welcomed the deposed President Ashraf Ghani, whose whereabouts had been unknown since Sunday, on humanitarian grounds.

In the eastern Afghan cities of Jalalabad, Khost and Asadabad, the first challenge emerged to Taliban rule, with hundreds of locals walking through the cities’ central streets and waving the black-red-and-green flags of the fallen Afghan republic to chants of “Allahu akbar." The Taliban dispersed these protests with gunfire, initially in the air. A witness in Jalalabad said that two people were killed and several injured, including Afghan journalists who filmed the event.

This bloody crackdown on protests clashed with the image of benevolent tolerance that the Taliban have attempted to project since seizing the Afghan capital on Sunday. On Wednesday, Anas Haqqani, a senior member of the Taliban, came to Kabul for a meeting with former President Hamid Karzai, who ruled until 2014, and with the fallen republic’s chief peace negotiator, Abdullah Abdullah.

At Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, crowds of Afghans continued to gather along the perimeter, trying to flee the country. The Taliban once again repulsed these crowds with violence, beating and whipping families trying to get through the checkpoints and unleashing volleys of gunfire in the air, according to witnesses.

Beyond the Taliban checkpoints, U.S. Marines at the gates of the airport focused mostly on keeping anyone from coming close. As a result, many of the evacuation flights continued leaving with empty seats even as tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with Western governments clamored for a way out before the Taliban track them down.

“The situation is very bad at the gate," said Lida Ahmadi, who applied for a special immigrant visa for Afghans who had helped the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. “I slept on the road last night. Now, after two nights and two days at the gate, we’ve finally got the chance to come in. I am so happy now," she said shortly after getting through the gate.

Many others haven’t made it, so far. An Australian C-130, which can carry more than 120 passengers, flew out only 26 people Wednesday morning, the Australian government said.

A number of civilian flights seeking to pick up foreign citizens and Afghan civilians didn’t get permission to land Wednesday, with some circling over Kabul in vain and then turning around. Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said that the IL-76MD it had sent to pick up Ukrainian citizens in Afghanistan was not allowed to proceed and has landed in Muscat, Oman, to await U.S. permission.

An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan, senior Biden administration officials told Senate staff during a private briefing on Tuesday, a Senate aide said. The U.S. military evacuated 1,100 American citizens, U.S. permanent residents and their families on Tuesday, according to a White House official. In total, the U.S. has evacuated 3,200 people so far and relocated to the U.S. 2,000 Afghans who were approved for special immigrant visas, the official said.

In the heart of Kabul, only one Western embassy—that of France—remained after all other Western missions shut down or moved to the airport on Sunday. In the past three days, it has become a magnet for hundreds of Afghans and foreigners trying to get out, with several hundred others camping around the compound in hopes of being allowed entry.

On Tuesday night, a convoy of some 10 buses traveled from the French Embassy to the Kabul airport, stopping at Taliban checkpoints, with passengers—most of them Afghans—later boarding a French A400 military plane to Abu Dhabi. By then, the crowded diplomatic compound had already run out of water and food rations.

“The embassy had turned into an internally displaced persons camp," said Stéphane Nicolas, head of operations for consulting firm ATR, who sheltered in the embassy until Tuesday night. “Behavior changes in this kind of place. Everyone is under shock, they know that they have lost everything, and that if they venture out they may die."

Outside the passenger terminal of the military side of the airport Wednesday morning, U.S. Marines handed out field rations to Afghan civilians, many of them women and children. A secondhand bus, bearing the markings of a tourism agency in Germany’s Thuringia region, dropped off the latest load of refugees. A small boy pulled his father’s kameez as a Marine directed the new arrivals.

Esrar Ahmad, a former interpreter for U.S. troops who also managed to enter the airport on Wednesday, said that his son and wife were injured in a stampede at the gates. “The crowd pushed us from the back and she fell down. Her knee was badly hurt by a rock, and she can’t really walk now," he said.

“The problem is that people believed in rumors of being able to go abroad without any documents or coordination," added Hayatullah, a 47-year-old Afghan-American who also spent the night outside the airport gate before being allowed inside Wednesday morning. “These people created a huge chaos."

In the U.K., Home Secretary Priti Patel told the British Broadcasting Corp. that officials are working “around the clock" to evacuate British and eligible Afghan nationals out of the country, and now are flying out roughly 1,000 a day.

The U.K.’s chief of defense staff, Gen. Nick Carter, told Sky News the Taliban were cooperating with British troops supporting the evacuation efforts, adding: “What we’re not getting are reports of them behaving in a medieval way like you might have seen in the past."


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

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