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Taliban blame US for airport chaos as Afghans face ‘impossible’ race to flee

22 Aug 2021 By AFP

The Taliban on Sunday blamed the United States for the chaotic evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans and foreigners from Kabul, one week after the hardline Islamist group returned to power in a rapid victory that stunned the world.

The United States has warned of security threats and the European Union admitted it was “impossible” to evacuate everyone at risk from the Taliban, who have vowed a softer version of their brutal rule from 1996 to 2001.

But terrified Afghans continue to try to flee, deepening a tragedy at Kabul airport where the United States and its allies have been unable to cope with the huge numbers of people trying to get on evacuation flights.

“America, with all its power and facilities… has failed to bring order to the airport. There is peace and calm all over the country, but there is chaos only at Kabul airport,” Taliban official Amir Khan Mutaqi said.

Britain’s defence ministry said Sunday seven people had died in the crowds, without giving further details.

A journalist, who was among a group of fleeing media workers and academics fortunate enough to reach the airport on Sunday, described desperate scenes of people surrounding their bus on the way in.

“They were showing us their passports and shouting ‘take us with you… please take us with you’,” the journalist told AFP.

“The Taliban fighter in the truck ahead of us had to shoot in the air to make them go away.”

Britain’s Sky News on Saturday aired footage of at least three bodies covered in white tarpaulin outside the airport. It was not clear how they had died.

Other journalists at the scene have reported people being crushed, while others were dehydrated and terrified.

Harrowing videos have emerged of babies and children being passed to soldiers over razor-wire fences and men clinging to the outside of departing planes.

During the distress of evacuation, an Afghan woman went into labour on a US Air Force flight and gave birth to a baby girl in the plane’s cargo bay moments after landing at a base in Germany, the Air Mobility Command tweeted.

– ‘Impossible’ deadline –

The crisis in Afghanistan has led to mounting criticism of the US and its Western allies, which this year pressed on with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as the government and security forces struggled to contain rising Taliban violence.

G7 leaders will discuss the situation in a virtual summit on Tuesday, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced.

“It is vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years,” Johnson tweeted.

As the bungled evacuations continued, Joe Biden described it as “one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history”

The US, which has thousands of troops trying to secure Kabul airport, has set a deadline to complete the evacuations by August 31.

On Sunday, the defence ministry enlisted the help of several major airlines in transporting people who have been flown to US bases in the Gulf and Europe back to America.

There are up to 15,000 Americans and 50,000 to 60,000 Afghan allies who need to be evacuated, according to the Biden administration.

Countless others fear repression or reprisal attacks under the Taliban and are also trying to flee.

The US government warned its citizens to stay away from the airport, with a White House official later saying Biden had been briefed on security threats, including from the Islamic State jihadist group.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell gave a bleak assessment of whether the airlift would succeed.

“They want to evacuate 60,000 people between now and the end of this month. It’s mathematically impossible,” he told AFP.

Borrell added that “we have complained” to the Americans that their airport security was overly strict and hampering attempts by Afghans who worked for the Europeans to enter.

– Taliban government –

The Taliban meanwhile have been focusing on forming a government.

The group’s co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has flown into Kabul and plans to meet jihadi leaders, elders and politicians, an official told AFP.

Among them are leaders of the Haqqani network, a US-designated terrorist organisation with million-dollar bounties on its leadership.

However, there have since been flickers of resistance with some ex-government troops gathering in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul — long known as an anti-Taliban bastion.

On Sunday, the Taliban was sending hundreds of its fighters to the valley after “local state officials refused to hand it over peacefully”, the group wrote on its Arabic Twitter account.

One of the leaders of the movement in Panjshir, named the National Resistance Front, is the son of famed anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

The NRF is prepared for a “long-term conflict” but is also still seeking to negotiate with the Taliban about an inclusive government, its spokesman Ali Maisam Nazary told AFP in an interview.

“The conditions for a peace deal with the Taliban is decentralisation, a system that ensures social justice, equality, rights, and freedom for all.”

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