Taliban beat back crowd at Kabul airport after seven killed in crush

A member of Taliban (C) stands outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 16.
REUTERS/Stringer

The Taliban fired in the air and used batons to force people desperate to flee Afghanistan to form orderly queues outside Kabul airport on Sunday, witnesses said, a day after seven people were killed in a crush at the gates.

On Sunday, there were no major injuries as gunmen beat back the crowds, according to witnesses, and Washington said it was now able to get large numbers of Americans into the airport.

Britain’s defense ministry said seven Afghans were killed in the crush around the airport on Saturday as thousands tried to get a flight out, a week after the Islamist militants took control of the country.

Sky News showed soldiers on a wall on Saturday attempting to pull the injured from the crush and spraying people with a hose to prevent them from getting dehydrated.

“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible,” the ministry said.

A NATO official said at least 20 people have died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampedes, witnesses have said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a virtual meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations for Tuesday to “ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people”.

Panicked Afghans have tried to board flights out, fearing reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law the Sunni Muslim group exercised while in power two decades ago.

Leaders of the Taliban, who have sought to show a more moderate face since capturing Kabul last Sunday, have begun talks on forming a government.

OPPOSITION

They face opposition from forces in northern Afghanistan, which said this weekend they had taken three districts close to the Panjshir valley.

Anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Massoud said on Sunday he hoped to hold peaceful talks with the Islamist movement but that his forces in the Panjshir – remnants of army units, special forces and militiamen – were ready to fight.

“We want to make the Taliban realise that the only way forward is through negotiation,” he said. “We do not want a war to break out.”

The United States and other countries including Britain have brought in several thousand troops to help evacuate foreign citizens and at-risk Afghans, but have been careful to avoid clashes with the Taliban.

A Taliban official said “we are seeking complete clarity on foreign forces’ exit plan”.

Taliban political office spokesman Mohammed Naeem said in an interview with Saudi-owned Al Hadath TV that talks are ongoing with the United States and other countries. Naeem also said al Qaeda is not present in Afghanistan and the Taliban has no relationship with them.

Afghans who fled this week have spoken about their despair at leaving loved ones behind. “It was very difficult to leave my country,” a veiled woman told Reuters in Qatar. “I love my country.”

The World Health Organization and U.N. children’s agency UNICEF called for a humanitarian air bridge to deliver aid to Afghanistan to help more than 18 million people in need.

THOUSANDS OF U.S. TROOPS

On Saturday, the United States and Germany told their citizens in Afghanistan to avoid travelling to Kabul airport, citing security risks as desperate crowds gathered, but Washington said on Sunday the situation had improved.

The United States has “secured the capacity to get large numbers of Americans safe passage through the airport and onto the airfield”, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN’s “State of the Union”.

Army Major General William Taylor said on Saturday that 5,800 U.S. troops remain at the airport, which “remains secure”.

A Marine with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) provides security during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, in this photo taken on Aug. 18, and released by U.S. Navy on Aug. 20.U.S NAVY/Central Command Public Affairs/Sgt. Isaiah Compbell/Handout via REUTERS

The United States on Sunday ordered six commercial airlines to help transport people after their evacuation from Afghanistan. The Pentagon said it called up 18 commercial aircraft from United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air and others to carry evacuees from temporary locations, which include a dozen countries across Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Taylor said that in the past week the United States has evacuated 17,000 people, including 2,500 Americans, from Kabul.

Australia ran four flights into Kabul on Saturday, evacuating more than 300 people, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. The Netherlands said it would increase its military presence in Afghanistan to help evacuation efforts.

President Vladimir Putin rejected the idea of sending evacuees to countries near Russia, saying he did not want “militants showing up here under cover of refugees”.

On one of the flights, an Afghan woman gave birth on board moments after landing at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Saturday, the U.S. Air Force said on Twitter. The woman delivered a baby girl in the cargo bay of a C-17 aircraft. The mother and baby were in good condition, the tweet said.

The Taliban seized power as U.S.-led forces were withdrawing after a 20-year war that President Joe Biden sought to conclude.

Taliban leaders are meanwhile trying to hammer out a new government, and the group’s co-founder, Mullah Baradar, has arrived in Kabul for talks.

The ultra-hardline Islamists have said they want peace and will respect women’s rights within the framework of Islamic law.

When in power from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban stopped women from working or going out without an all-enveloping burqa, and stopped girls from going to school.

Reuters

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