News from Afghanistan: 7 killed at Kabul airport; fighters seize Taliban areas

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KABUL, Afghanistan – At least seven Afghans have died in a panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul International Airport, the British military said on Sunday, as thousands still tried to flee the country in a chaotic exodus a week after the Taliban takeover.

The Taliban have mobilized to confront the first movements of armed resistance since the capture of almost all of Afghanistan in a few days earlier this month. Anti-Taliban fighters claimed to have captured three mountainous districts, and a prominent militia commander in the only province that was not yet under Taliban control pledged to retaliate in the event of an attack.

The British army recognized at least seven dead at the airport on Sunday. Others may have been trampled, suffocated or suffered heart attacks as Taliban fighters fired in the air in an attempt to repel the crowds. The soldiers covered several corpses in white clothes. Other troops stood on concrete barriers, trying to calm the crowd.

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Kabul Airport, now one of the only routes outside the country, has seen days of chaos since the Taliban entered the capital on August 15. military cargo plane taking off, some of the seven killed on August 16.

The Taliban have promised amnesty to those who worked with the United States, NATO and the overthrown Afghan government, but many Afghans still fear revenge attacks. There have been reports in recent days that the Taliban was hunting down their former enemies. It is unclear whether the Taliban leadership will say one thing and do another, or whether the fighters are taking matters into their own hands.

Outside the airport on Saturday, Western troops in full riot gear attempted to control crowds large enough to be seen in satellite photos. They took away a few that were sweating and looking pale. With temperatures reaching 34 degrees Celsius (93 F), soldiers sprayed water from a hose on the gathered people and distributed bottled water.

“The situation at Kabul airport remains extremely difficult and unpredictable,” a NATO official said on condition of anonymity in accordance with regulations. The official was unable to confirm a precise number of victims.

The US Embassy, ​​which has moved to the military side of the airport, has asked US citizens and others not to come to the airport until they have received specific instructions.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN that 3,900 people had been airlifted out of Kabul on US military flights in the past 24 hours, up from 1,600 the day before. This is in addition to the approximately 3,900 people airlifted on non-US military flights in the past 24 hours. It remains well below the 5,000 to 9,000 that the military says it has the capacity to airlift on a daily basis.

Britain said it has airlifted more than 5,000 people, including 1,000 in the past 14 hours.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin activated the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet program, requesting 18 planes from US carriers to help transport Afghan refugees after their evacuation to other countries. The voluntary program, born in the wake of the Berlin Airlift, strengthens the army’s capabilities during crises.

President Joe Biden has promised to repatriate all Americans from Afghanistan and to evacuate the Afghans who contributed to the American war effort. US military helicopters were used to retrieve 169 Americans outside the airport. Tens of thousands of Americans and others are still hoping to fly away.

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A potential attack on the airport by a local Islamic State affiliate also raised concerns. US military planes made corkscrew landings and other planes fired flares on takeoff, measures used to prevent missile attacks.

The Taliban attribute the chaotic evacuation to the US military, saying it is not necessary for the Afghans to fear them, even if their fighters shoot in the air and hit people with batons as they attempt to crowd control outside the airport.

“All of Afghanistan is secure, but the airport, which is run by the Americans, is in the grip of anarchy,” Amir Khan Motaqi, a senior Taliban official, said on Sunday. The United States “shouldn’t embarrass itself in front of the world and shouldn’t give our people this mentality that (the Taliban) is kind of an enemy.”

Speaking to an Iranian state television station on a video call on Saturday evening, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem also blamed the deaths at the airport on the Americans.

“The Americans announced that ‘we would take you to America with us’, and people gathered at the airport in Kabul,” Naeem said. “If it was announced now in any country in the world, wouldn’t people go?”

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The Taliban have sought to project a more moderate image than when they last ruled the country, from 1996 until the US-led invasion following the September 11 attacks, perpetrated by al- Qaida while it was sheltered by the Taliban. During their former rule, women were largely confined to their homes, television and music were banned, and public executions took place – all in accordance with the harsh version of the Islamic regime of the Taliban.

This time, the Taliban are speaking with Afghan officials from previous governments about a political transition and saying they will restore peace and security after decades of war. Afghan officials familiar with the talks said the Taliban said they would not announce a government until after the August 31 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops.

But they are already facing resistance movements.

In Baghlan province, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Kabul, fighters calling themselves the “Uprising of the People” claimed to have taken three districts of the Andarab Valley, nestled in the towering mountains of the ‘Hindu Kush.

Khair Mohammad Khairkhwa, the former provincial intelligence chief, and Abdul Ahmad Dadgar, another uprising leader, said Taliban fighters torched houses and kidnapped children. Two other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, made similar allegations. The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In neighboring Panjshir province – the only one still to fall under Taliban control – a group of militia leaders and ousted government officials pledged to defend it against the Taliban, who released a video showing their fighters fighting back. directing towards the region.

The province is a stronghold of Northern Alliance fighters who joined with the United States to overthrow the Taliban in 2001, and Ahmad Massoud, the son of a famous Northern Alliance commander who was assassinated days before the September 11 attacks, appeared in videos from there.

But it seems unlikely that a few thousand guerrillas will soon succeed where the Afghan national security forces have failed despite 20 years of Western aid, assistance and training.

“If the Taliban warlords launch an assault, of course they will face fierce resistance from us,” Massoud said in an interview with the Al-Arabiya news network. But he also expressed his openness to dialogue with the Taliban.

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Akhgar reported from Istanbul and Gambrell from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press editors Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem, Robert Burns in Washington, Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.

Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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