Taliban fire in the air to control crowd at Kabul airport

A member of the Taliban inspects the area outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 16 2021.
A member of the Taliban inspects the area outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 16 2021.
Image: REUTERS/Stringer

The Taliban fired in the air and used batons to make people line up in 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 and long lines of people were being formed, the witnesses said.

Britain's defence ministry said seven Afghans were killed in the crush around the airport on Saturday as thousands of people desperately tried to get a flight out, a week after the Islamist militant group took control of the country.

Sky News showed footage of soldiers standing on a wall on Saturday attempting to pull the injured out 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 in a statement.

A Nato official said that 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.

Panicked Afghans have tried to get on flights abroad, fearing reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law the Sunni Muslim group exercised when it was 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.

The US and other foreign countries including Britain have brought in several thousand troops to manage the evacuations of foreign citizens and vulnerable Afghans, but have stayed away from the outside areas of the airport.

“Our forces are maintaining strict distance from the outer areas of the Kabul airport to prevent any clashes with the Taliban,” the Nato official said.

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

“Managing chaos outside Kabul airport is a complex task,” the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

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

THOUSANDS OF US TROOPS

On Saturday, the US and Germany told their citizens in Afghanistan to avoid travelling to Kabul airport, citing security risks as desperate crowds gathered.

Army Maj-Gen William Taylor told a Pentagon briefing on Saturday that 5,800 US troops remain at the airport and that the facility “remains secure”.

On Sunday, a Pentagon spokesperson said the US would deploy 18 commercial aircraft, including from United, American Airlines and Delta, to help transport people who have already been flown out of Afghanistan.

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

Australia ran four flights into Kabul on Saturday night, evacuating more than 300 people, including Australians, Afghan visa holders, New Zealanders, US and British citizens, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

The Taliban's swoop into power and the collapse of the Afghan army came as US-led forces were withdrawing after a 20-year war that President Joe Biden sought to conclude.

Biden, who has come under heavy criticism at home and abroad for the way the war has ended, was due to speak about the situation in Afghanistan at 10pm, the White House said.

On Saturday former president Donald Trump called it “the greatest foreign policy humiliation” in US history, even though his own administration negotiated the withdrawal deal last year.

TALIBAN IN POWER

Taliban leaders are trying to hammer out a new government and the group's co-founder, Mullah Baradar, has arrived in the Afghan capital for talks with other leaders.

Commanders of the group are set to meet former governors and bureaucrats in more than 20 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces over the next few days to ensure their safety and seek co-operation, the Taliban official said on Sunday.

Forces holding out against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan said this weekend they have taken three districts close to the Panjshir valley where remnants of government forces and other militia groups have gathered.

The EU has not recognised the Taliban, nor is it holding political talks with the militants, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Saturday.

The Taliban, who follow an ultra-hardline version of Islam, have said they want peace and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

When in power from 1996 to 2001, also guided by Islamic law, the Taliban stopped women from working or going out without wearing an all-enveloping burka and stopped girls from going to school.


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