‘Just The Clothes On Me’: Afghans Escape To New Life

Afghan evacuees are pictured at the US Air Base Ramstein, Germany on August 26, 2021. – The Ramstein Air Base, the largest US Air Force base in Europe hosts thousands of Afghan evacuees. (Photo by Armando BABANI / AFP)

 

 

 

Wazhma left everything behind to escape Taliban rule after the extremist group took control of Afghanistan, aspiring for a life “free of threats” in the United States. 

In a facility in the UAE, temporarily hosting Afghan evacuees heading to other countries, the 21-year-old medical student struggled Saturday to overcome the terror she experienced during the last days at home.

“My husband worked for the US embassy. They (Taliban) would have killed us if we stayed,” brown-haired Wazhma told AFP in English, just hours before she was due to board a US-bound flight.

“I only took the clothes on me. Nothing more.”

The young Afghan was among tens of thousands of evacuees who fled the capital Kabul after the Taliban swept in and deployed on the streets in mid-August.

Wazhma, her husband, brother-in-law and baby nephew spent “the longest three days” of their lives on the road, moving in secret until they reached the gates of Kabul airport where US personnel were waiting for them.

“The situation was very bad. Thank God, we are safe,” she said, holding her baby nephew tightly in her arms.

When asked whether she will ever go back, she laughingly said: “Never, only if the Taliban go away.”

She said the hardline Islamist group will never change its discriminatory policies against women despite promises of a softer brand of rule than their last stint in power between 1996 and 2001 — when the US led an invasion after the September 11 attacks.

“I’m happy I left. The only thing I am worried about now is my mother, father, sister and brother,” Wazhma said.

Meanwhile, in Kabul, evacuation efforts were reaching final stages Saturday amid fears of fresh terror attacks after an Islamic State-claimed suicide bomb two days earlier killed scores of civilians as well as 13 American service members near the airport.

With the airlift window narrowing sharply ahead of an August 31 deadline, more than 5,000 people remain inside Kabul airport awaiting evacuation, and crowds continue to throng the perimeter gates pleading for entry.

 

A member of ther US military speaks with Afghan evacuees at the US Air Base Ramstein, Germany on August 26, 2021. – The Ramstein Air Base, the largest US Air Force base in Europe hosts thousands of Afghan evacuees. (Photo by Armando BABANI / AFP)

 

– ‘We were afraid’ –
Afghan evacuee Naim, a father of five who worked as a translator for the US army, immediately went into hiding when the Taliban seized the capital on August 15.

He and his family managed to escape to the airport, where they spent three nights until a US aircraft flew them to the United Arab Emirates.

“We were afraid that they would kill us,” the 34-year-old told AFP as he sat next to his wife, three daughters and two sons.

“I took my kids’ clothes only and our IDs. We lost everything, the carpets, the couches, the baby clothes. All gone,” he said.

“I just want my kids to have a good life.”

Other mask-clad Afghan men, women and children were gathered in the facility in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, some sipping on small juice boxes and others sitting on white chairs near rooms bustling with medical staff.

They were waiting nervously before heading to the airport to board a flight to the US.

A young Afghan girl, in a black-gold sequence dress, patiently waited her turn for a medical check up, swaying her legs back and forth as she played with a stuffed bear.

Dozens of others poured in, queing at the entrance of the facility, waiting to be checked in by Emirati employees.

 

 

Afghan evacuees arrive at Incheon International Airport in Incheon on August 26, 2021, after fleeing from their country following the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

Gulf nations — including the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar — which host US and other Western forces, have been instrumental in evacuation efforts, offering Afghans critical passage to new lives in third countries.

The UAE said on Thursday that it has helped evacuate 28,000 people from Afghanistan, adding it was hosting 8,500 evacuees on a temporary basis until they head to the US within days.

About 109,000 people have been flown out of the country since August 14, the day before the Taliban swept to power, according to the US government.

Some countries — including France, Britain and Spain — announced an end to their airlifts Friday, following other nations such as Canada and Australia earlier in the week.

The United Nations said it was bracing for a “worst-case scenario” of up to half a million more refugees from Afghanistan by the end of 2021.

Despite Taliban promises of a softer form of rule, many Afghans fear a repeat of their brutal interpretation of Islamic law, as well as reprisals against those working with foreign militaries, Western missions or the previous US-backed government.

Timeline: Taliban’s Takeover Of Afghanistan

Afghan armed men supporting the Afghan security forces against the Taliban stand with their weapons and Humvee vehicles at Parakh area in Bazarak, Panjshir province on August 19, 2021. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP
Afghan armed men supporting the Afghan security forces against the Taliban stand with their weapons and Humvee vehicles at Parakh area in Bazarak, Panjshir province on August 19, 2021.
Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

 

Here are the main developments since the Taliban seized Kabul, taking power again in Afghanistan after two decades of war.

– Lightning takeover –

On August 15, Taliban fighters appear on the edge of Kabul after a lightning offensive launched in May as US and NATO troops began to withdraw.

In the space of 10 days, they seized city after city across the country with little or no resistance.

Television images show the Taliban taking the presidential palace.

President Ashraf Ghani flees the country and says on Facebook that the “Taliban have won” and that he left to avoid a “flood of bloodshed”.

– Airport chaos –

Frightened people besiege Kabul airport, the only exit route from the country. Chaos breaks out on the tarmac as people try to rush aircraft.

All military and civilian flights are halted, before resuming Monday evening.

– ‘Terrorism sanctuary’ fears –

China becomes the first country to say it is ready to deepen “friendly and cooperative” relations with the Taliban.

It later accuses Washington of “leaving an awful mess”.

The UN Security Council says the country must not become a breeding ground for terrorism.

Under growing criticism, President Joe Biden insists he has no regrets and emphasises that US troops cannot defend a nation whose leaders “gave up and fled”.

– Go back to work –

The Taliban tell civil servants in Kabul to resume their duties “without any fear”. Some shops reopen and evacuation flights from the city’s airport restart.

– ‘Women can work’ –

At their first news conference since seizing power, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says the Taliban will let “women work in accordance with the principles of Islam”.

Girls return to school in Taliban-held Herat.

– EU ‘must talk’ to Taliban –

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says the bloc will have to talk to the Taliban.

– ICC: Possible violations –

Karim Khan, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, says reported crimes during the Taliban advance may amount to violations of international law.

– ‘Collapse’ of Afghanistan –

Russian President Vladimir Putin calls on the global community to prevent the “collapse” of Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.

NATO says its allies have deployed enough planes to airlift foreign nationals and their Afghan colleagues from Kabul but ground access to the airport is a “big challenge”.

– Taliban leader returns –

Within hours of Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar returning to Afghanistan, the group says it will be “different” this time. It will pardon its enemies and women will not have to wear the all-enveloping burqa.

– ‘Difficult’ airlift –

Biden says he cannot guarantee the final outcome of the emergency evacuation from Kabul’s airport, calling it one of the most “difficult” airlift operations ever.

The US tells its citizens to avoid travelling to the airport because of “potential security threats” near its gates.

Pressure builds on Biden to extend his August 31 deadline to complete the rescue missions, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saying “it’s mathematically impossible” to complete the evacuations by that date.

– Seven deaths –

Britain’s defence ministry says that seven Afghans died in crowds in Kabul, without giving the circumstances. The previous day Sky News aired footage of at least three bodies outside the airport.

– Taliban blames US –

The Taliban blames the US for the dramatic scenes at Kabul airport, an official saying that “there is peace and calm all over the country, but there is chaos only at Kabul airport”.

– Resistance? –

There have since been flickers of resistance with some ex-government troops gathering in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul.

The National Resistance Front is prepared for a “long-term conflict” but is also still seeking to negotiate with the Taliban about an inclusive government, the movement’s spokesman Ali Maisam Nazary tells AFP.

– Taliban fighters –

Hundreds of Taliban fighters are heading to the Panjshir valley “to control it, after local state officials refused to hand it over peacefully”, the group wrote on its Arabic Twitter account.

– ‘Red line’ –

On the 23, the Taliban described the August 31 deadline for evacuations as a “red line”.

On the 24, Biden says he has decided to stick to his August 31 deadline to pull American forces out of Afghanistan, after talks with G7 counterparts.

On the 25, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the Taliban will allow Americans and at-risk Afghans to leave after August 31.

– Suicide bombing  –

A suicide bomb on August 26 claimed by the Islamic State rips through crowds outside Kabul airport, killing scores of civilians as well as 13 US service members.

The following day, Britain, France and Spain become among the latest countries to end their evacuations from Kabul.

More than 100,000 people have been flown out of the country since August 14, according to the US government.

US Tells Citizens To Leave Kabul Airport Gates

This handout photo courtesy of the US Air Force shows US Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load passengers aboard a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), Afghanistan,, August 24, 2021. – (Photo by Donald R. ALLEN / US AIR FORCE / AFP) 

 

 

The United States urged its citizens Friday to “immediately” leave the gates around Kabul’s airport, where a suicide bomber this week targeted crowds trying to flee Taliban rule.

Earlier Friday, the Pentagon said that the high-risk Kabul airlift operation to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies still faced “specific, credible threats”.

“US citizens who are at the Abbey gate, East gate, North gate or the New Ministry of Interior gate now should leave immediately,” the US Embassy in Kabul said in a security alert.

“Because of security threats at the Kabul airport, we continue to advise US citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates,” the embassy said.

The alert gave no further details on what the security threats might be, but it followed Thursday’s attack that killed scores of people including 13 US servicemen.

The blast claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group targeted US forces, but hit hardest the mass of people who had converged on the airport in a desperate bid to escape the Taliban’s feared hardline rule.

Afghan Evacuation Flights Resume After Deadly Suicide Bombings

An Afghan man leaves a plane as people arrive from Afghanistan with an evacuation flight at Rinas Airport in Tirana on August 27, 2021..
Gent SHKULLAKU / AFP

 

Last-ditch evacuation flights took off from Kabul airport on Friday, a day after twin suicide bombings on crowds trying to flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan killed at least 85 people, including 13 US servicemen.

The bombings, claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, injected further panic into the final days of an already frenzied US-led airlift.

The attacks targeted US forces but hit hardest the mass of people fearing life under the Taliban who converged on the airport in a desperate bid to board a flight out.

At least 72 people among the crowd were killed, as well as the 13 American troops, according to various authorities.

But with people searching for missing relatives in hospitals on Friday, there were fears the death toll would climb.

President Joe Biden, under enormous pressure over his administration’s handling of the Afghan crisis, vowed to punish those responsible.

“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said.

However Biden, determined to end two decades of war in Afghanistan and citing fears of more IS attacks, also insisted that he would stick to his August 31 deadline to end the airlift.

On Friday morning, some evacuation flights resumed with queues of people seen lining up on the tarmac but there were no more crowds near the sites of the blasts, according to AFP reporters.

Britain and Spain announced their evacuation operations would end Friday, after Canada and Australia had already stopped their flights.

More than 100,000 people have been flown out of the country since the Taliban swept into power on August 15.

 

‘More extreme’

 

DULLES, VIRGINIA – AUGUST 25: People evacuated from Kabul Afghanistan wait to board a bus that will take them to a refugee processing center at the Dulles International Airport on August 25, 2021, in Dulles, Virginia. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP

 

The Taliban have promised a softer brand of rule compared with their first stint in power, which ended in 2001 when the United States invaded because they gave sanctuary to Al-Qaeda.

But many Afghans fear a repeat of their brutal interpretation of Islamic law, as well as violent retribution for working with foreign militaries, Western missions or the previous US-backed government.

Western allies have repeatedly warned the United States that it is impossible to get all at-risk Afghans out by Tuesday.

The Taliban have allowed US-led forces to conduct the airlift, while planning to finalise their own government as soon as the American troops left.

But the IS jihadists, bloody rivals of the Taliban with their own track record of barbaric attacks, were intent on capitalising on the chaos in Kabul.

In recent years, the Islamic State’s Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in those countries.

It has massacred civilians at mosques, shrines, public squares and even hospitals.

“These are people that are even more extreme than the Taliban and are basically at war with the Taliban. So it is a horribly complex situation,” Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said.

Terror, devastation

 

DULLES, VIRGINIA – AUGUST 25: People evacuated from Kabul Afghanistan wait to board a bus that will take them to a refugee processing center at the Dulles International Airport on August 25, 2021, in Dulles, Virginia. 
Anna Moneymaker / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

 

The attackers targeted people trying to reach access gates at the airport, creating scenes of terror and devastation.

Immediately after the blast, one man held a semi-conscious victim by the elbow, trying to stop his head from slipping beneath the surface of the murky water in a canal along the perimeter of the airport.

“I will never, ever want to go (to the airport) again. Death to America, its evacuation and visas,” said Milad, who was near the first blast with his wife and three children, told AFP.

The Italian NGO Emergency said the hospital it operates in Kabul had been overwhelmed by more than 60 casualties, 16 of whom were pronounced dead on arrival.

The injured “could not speak, many were terrified, their eyes totally lost in emptiness, their gaze blank”, the hospital’s medical coordinator Alberto Zanin said in a post on the group’s Twitter account.

 

 ‘Bear responsibility’

 

 

The attacks led to the worst single-day death toll for the US military in Afghanistan since 2011.

A clearly shaken Biden went before TV cameras to address the American people, describing the killed US troops as heroes.

Asked by a reporter if he bore any responsibility for the deaths, Biden said: “I bear responsibility fundamentally for all that’s happened of late.”

The Taliban, which condemned the blasts, emphasised they happened in an area under US military control.

The attacks were also denounced around the world, with Britain describing them as barbaric and Germany as heinous.

The United Nations called an urgent meeting of the permanent members of the Security Council for Monday.

-AFP

Explosion Outside Kabul Airport, No Word On Casualties

This handout photo courtesy ot the US Air Force shows US Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load passengers aboard a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), Afghanistan,, August 24, 2021.

 

 

The US military confirmed a large explosion Thursday outside the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, where the United States and other countries have been evacuating tens of thousands of people.

“We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

Unconfirmed reports put the explosion at the airport’s main Abbey Gate, where thousands of people have massed over the past 12 days hoping to be evacuated after the Taliban seized power.

Other reports located it close to the Baron Hotel near the gate, which Western nations had used to stage some evacuations.

US and allied officials have said they had intelligence that suicide bombers tied to the Afghan arm of the Islamic State group — the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) — were threatening to attack the airport ahead of Washington’s August 31 deadline to finalize the evacuation.

Early Thursday Kabul time Western nations warned their citizens to immediately leave the surrounds of the airport over a terrorist threat, as thousands of people tried to reach a dwindling number of evacuation flights.

“Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” said the US State Department.

Britain’s armed forces minister James Heappey said Thursday a terrorist threat against the airport was “imminent.”

“Reporting over the week has become ever more credible. And it is of an imminent and severe threat to life,” Heappey said.

Most member nations of the US-led coalition said Thursday they had wound up or would soon end their own evacuation flights from Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The total number of people who have been taken out of the US-controlled hub since the international airlift began on August 14 hit 95,700 Thursday, including both Afghans and foreign nationals.

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the United States would stick to its deadline of withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan by August 31, to end the two-decade US-led war there.

A spokesman for the Taliban, which seized Kabul on August 15 to cap a lightning campaign against government forces, said Tuesday the evacuation operation had to end on August 31.

Uganda Welcomes First Group Of Afghan Refugees


PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

 

A flight carrying Afghan evacuees fleeing the Taliban takeover of their country touched down early Wednesday in Uganda where they will be given temporary refuge, government officials said.

The foreign ministry said a charter flight carrying 51 Afghans — including men, women and children — landed in the lakeside city of Entebbe, where they were whisked to hotels in a convoy of buses.

More evacuees from Afghanistan are expected to arrive at a later time in Uganda from the war-torn country, the ministry said.

It said it followed a request from the US government to temporarily host “at-risk” Afghan nationals and others who are in transit to the United States and other destinations worldwide.

“The decision to host those in need is informed by the Government of Uganda’s consistent policy of receiving refugees and persons in distress as well as playing a responsible role in matters of international concern,” the ministry said in a statement.

Media reports have suggested Uganda had agreed to take about 2,000 refugees but this has not been confirmed.

Uganda hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world — nearly 1.5 million according to the United Nations, mainly from neighbouring South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The ministry said that arrangements were also being made to bring home a number of Ugandans who were unable to make this first flight “due to the challenges of accessing the airport in Kabul”.

Neighbouring Rwanda said on Tuesday it also plans to take in dozens of schoolgirls and staff from Afghanistan’s only boarding school for girls.

Since the Taliban’s August 15 takeover of Kabul, Afghans have grown increasingly desperate to escape the country, with many terrified of facing life under the hardline Islamist group.

The US embassy in Kampala thanked Uganda for its “generosity and hospitality toward these communities”.

“The Government of Uganda and the Ugandan people have a long tradition of welcoming refugees and other communities in need,” the embassy posted on Twitter.

Most refugees in Uganda live in large refugee settlements in the sparsely populated north of the country but around 81,000 urban refugees live in the capital Kampala.

Aid agencies have repeatedly said that the international response to support refugees in Uganda, a country of about 44 million people, has been underfunded.

-AFP

Afghans Race To Flee Taliban After Biden Confirms August 31st Airlift Deadline

Afghan people walk inside a fenced corridor as they enter Pakistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on August 25, 2021 following the Taliban’s stunning military takeover of Afghanistan.
AFP

 

Afghans on Wednesday faced an increasingly desperate race to escape life under the Taliban after President Joe Biden confirmed US-led evacuations will end next week.

More than 70,000 people have already been evacuated, but huge crowds remain outside Kabul airport hoping to flee the threat of reprisals and repression in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Biden said Tuesday the United States would stick to his August 31 deadline to completely withdraw its troops despite warnings from European allies that not all vulnerable Afghans would be able to leave by then.

“The sooner we can finish, the better… each day of operations brings added risk to our troops,” Biden said Tuesday.

“We are currently on the pace to finish by August 31.”

Many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal five-year Taliban regime that was toppled in 2001, and violent retribution for working with foreign militaries, Western missions and the previous US-backed government.

Washington and its allies have been flying out thousands of such Afghans every day on hulking military transports, but it has become an increasingly difficult and desperate task.

 Growing risk

 

This handout photo taken and released by the French Etat-major des Armees on August 24, 2021, shows a French soldier watching people walking to board an A400M Atlas military transport aircraft at Kabul airport in Kabul
ETAT MAJOR DES ARMEES / AFP

 

The Afghan capital’s airport has been gripped by chaos as US-led troops try to maintain a secure perimeter for evacuation flights, surrounded by desperate Afghans.

Some have foreign passports, visas, or eligibility to travel, but most do not. At least eight people have died in the chaos.

“Does anyone … ANYONE … have a contact inside the airport,” pleaded one American on a WhatsApp group set up to share information on how people can access the airport.

“My guy worked for us 2010-15 and needs to get out with 5 of his family. This is real bad.”

The Taliban have also been accused of blocking or slowing access for many trying to reach the airport, although they denied the charge again late Tuesday.

Biden said the Taliban were taking steps to assist, but there was also an “acute and growing risk” of an attack by the regional chapter of the Islamic State jihadist group.

CIA Director William Burns flew to Kabul for a secret meeting with top Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, US media reported Tuesday, the highest-level meeting so far between the US government and the new rulers of Afghanistan.

The New York Times said the spy chief was not there to negotiate an extension to the pullout deadline, but for general talks on “evacuation operations and terrorist threats”.

‘It will not be enough’

 

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 18, 2021 the leader of the Taliban negotiating team Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar looks on the final declaration of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban presented in Qatar’s capital Doha. 
KARIM JAAFAR / AFP

 

Despite the harrowing scenes at Kabul airport, the Taliban have ruled out any extension to next Tuesday’s deadline to pull out foreign troops, describing it as “a red line”.

“They have planes, they have the airport, they should get their citizens and contractors out of here,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday.

European nations have said they would not be able to airlift all at-risk Afghans before August 31.

“Even if (the evacuation) goes on… a few days longer, it will not be enough,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Bild TV.

A hard withdrawal deadline presents a further complication that may reduce the number of daily evacuations.

The United States deployed fresh troops for evacuations.

That 6,000-plus contingent, as well as hundreds of US officials, 600 Afghan troops and the equipment, will have to be flown out.

To do that by August 31, the Pentagon said operations would have to start winding down days in advance.

Taliban urge Afghans to stay

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 24, 2001, Afghan Northern Alliance soldiers shout ‘Allah Akbar’, while another checks his machinegun on their position on the front line against Taliban forces not far from the former main Soviet airbase Bagrame
Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Following their lightning victory that stunned the world, the Taliban have so far been content to allow the US-led operation to continue, focusing instead on consolidating control and forming a government.

They have vowed a different, more inclusive regime this time around, offering amnesty to opponents and assurances of rights to women.

An aid worker in Khost, a deeply conservative region in the southeast that fell to the Taliban shortly before they seized Kabul, told AFP the attitude of the former insurgents has so far been “much softer” than people expected.

“But the people are afraid of a bad economic situation,” he added.

Many Afghans, however, remain fearful and sceptical.

In an attempt to assuage fears, the Taliban spokesman on Tuesday urged skilled Afghans to not flee, saying the country needed “expert” Afghans such as doctors and engineers.

But Zabihullah Mujahid added that women who work for the Afghan government should stay home until the security situation improves.

The Taliban have said women will be able to get an education and work, but within what they consider Islamic bounds.

-AFP

Putin Says Russia Will Not ‘Meddle’ In Afghanistan

Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a United Russia ruling party's congress in Moscow on August 24, 2021. Grigory SYSOYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a United Russia ruling party’s congress in Moscow on August 24, 2021. Grigory SYSOYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday  Russia would not interfere in Afghanistan and that Moscow had learned from the Soviet occupation of the country, a week after the Taliban swept back into power.

“We’re not going to meddle in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs or involve our military in a conflict where everyone is against each other,” Putin said at a gathering of officials from the ruling United Russia party.

“The Soviet Union had its own experience in this country. We have learned the lessons we needed,” he said.

READ ALSO: Stop Evacuating Afghan Experts, Taliban Tell US

Moscow invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to support an Afghan communist government in conflict with Muslim guerrilla fighters.

The decade-long war there left up to two million Afghans dead, forced seven million more from their homes and led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet troops.

Putin’s comments came after Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said US forces were “pawning off” Afghans fleeing the Taliban to neighbouring Moscow-allied Central Asia.

On a visit to Hungary, Lavrov said the United States was trying to convince “several Central Asian countries” to take in Afghans who previously worked with US forces in the now Taliban-controlled country.

He alleged that Washington tells the countries the Afghans will only be there temporarily.

“They say it’s for a few months because they need time to make them visas,” Lavrov said at a press conference with his Hungarian counterpart in Budapest.

“Afghans who worked with US forces were probably security checked inside out. Why do you need two more months to give these people a visa?” he asked, accusing the United States of a lack of respect for Central Asian nations.

Around 1,500 Afghans have crossed into neighbouring Uzbekistan after the Taliban takeover and are living in tents near the border, according to the Afghan embassy in Tashkent.

Putin complained last week about Western countries trying to place Afghan refugees in Central Asian countries “before obtaining visas to the United States or other countries.”

Putin has warned against an influx of refugees from Afghanistan, saying militants could enter Russia under the guise of seeking asylum.

Several former Soviet republics in Central Asia share a border both with Afghanistan and Russia, he told officials on Sunday.

Moscow has been cautiously optimistic about the new leadership in Kabul.

The Kremlin said Tuesday it was “attentively watching” the “disagreements” on whether to extend an August 31 deadline for the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

 

AFP

Stop Evacuating Afghan Experts, Taliban Tell US

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 18, 2021 the leader of the Taliban negotiating team Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar looks on the final declaration of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban presented in Qatar’s capital Doha. 
KARIM JAAFAR / AFP

 

A Taliban spokesman on Tuesday urged skilled Afghans to stop fleeing the country and warned that it would not accept any extension of the August 31 deadline for evacuations.

The hardline Islamist group said Americans were taking “Afghan experts” such as engineers and doctors out of Afghanistan.

“We ask them to stop this process,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference in Kabul.

“This country needs their expertise. They should not be taken to other countries,” Mujahid added.

The Taliban’s top spokesman laid out a series of demands during a live broadcast Tuesday as US-led troops have ramped up operations to get thousands of people out of Kabul.

The spokesman repeated the group’s earlier announcement that the Taliban would not allow the US to extend next week’s deadline for a complete withdrawal.

“They have planes, they have the airport, they should get their citizens and contractors out of here,” said Mujahid.

The spokesman also tried to offer assurances, promising that women would be allowed to return to the workforce once security was established in the country.

“We want them to work but we want the security to be right,” he told reporters.

President Joe Biden has said he hopes to stick to the August 31 deadline he set to pull out American forces, but he is facing pressure from European allies and Britain to go beyond the date.

About 50,000 foreigners and Afghans have fled the country from Kabul’s airport since the Taliban swept into power nine days ago, according to the US government.

Many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal interpretation of Islamic law the Taliban implemented when they were first in power from 1996-2001 and retribution for working with the US-backed government over the past two decades.

The Taliban, who ended two decades of war with an astonishingly swift rout of government forces, have been publicly tolerant of the evacuation effort.

-AFP

 

Taliban Warns Of Dire ‘Consequences’ If US Delays Troops Removal

An Imam speaks next to an armed Taliban fighter during Friday prayers at the Abdul Rahman Mosque in Kabul on August 20, 2021, following the Taliban’s stunning takeover of Afghanistan. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi / AFP)

 

The Taliban warned on Monday there would be “consequences” if the United States and its allies extend the presence of troops in Afghanistan beyond next week, as chaos continued to overwhelm Kabul airport.

The rapid fall of the country to the hardliners last weekend shocked Western nations, coming just two weeks before an August 31 deadline for all troops to fully withdraw from the country.

Instead, thousands of soldiers have poured back in to manage the frantic airlifting of foreigners and Afghans — many who fear reprisals for working with Western nations — out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

“If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News on Monday.

Staying beyond the agreed deadline would be “extending occupation”, he added.

The rush to leave Kabul has sparked harrowing scenes and killed at least eight people, some crushed to death while at least one person died after falling from a moving plane.

One Afghan was killed and three others were injured in a dawn firefight on Monday that according to the German military erupted between Afghan guards and unknown assailants.

German and American troops “participated in further exchange of fire”, the German army said in a statement.

The Taliban, infamous for an ultra-strict interpretation of sharia law during their initial 1996-2001 rule, have repeatedly vowed a softer version this time.

– Impossible to meet deadline –

The Taliban’s victory ended two decades of war, as they took advantage of US President Joe Biden’s decision to exit the country and end America’s longest war.

Biden has insisted he wants to end the US military presence and the airlifts by August 31.

But with the European Union and Britain saying it would be impossible to get everyone out by then, Biden is under pressure to extend the deadline.

Speaking at the White House on Sunday, Biden said talks were under way to explore the possibility of extending the deadline.

He also acknowledged the tragic scenes at the airport, which have also included babies and children being passed to soldiers over razor-wire fences and men clinging to the outside of departing planes.

But he said they were part of the cost of departure.

“There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see,” he said.

– ‘Peace and calm’ –

Biden spoke after the Taliban, who have been holding talks with elders and politicians to set up a government, slammed the evacuation.

“America, with all its power and facilities… has failed to bring order to the airport,” Taliban official Amir Khan Mutaqi said.

“There is peace and calm all over the country, but there is chaos only at Kabul airport.”

In the streets of the capital, the Taliban have indeed enforced a calm of a kind, with their armed forces patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints.

Visually, they have also been looking to stamp their authority, ensuring the tri-coloured national flag is replaced with their white banner.

At a roadside in Kabul at the weekend, young men sold Taliban flags, which bear in black text the Muslim proclamation of faith and the regime’s formal name: “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.

“Our goal is to spread the flag of the Islamic Emirate throughout Afghanistan,” said seller Ahmad Shakib, who studies economics at university.

– Resistance –

Outside of Kabul, there have been flickers of resistance against the Taliban.

Some ex-government troops have gathered in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital — long known as an anti-Taliban bastion.

The Taliban said Monday their fighters had surrounded resistance forces holed up in the valley, but were looking to negotiate rather than take the fight to them.

Taliban fighters “are stationed near Panjshir”, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, saying they had the area surrounded on three sides.

“The Islamic Emirate is trying to resolve this issue peacefully,” he added.

The announcement follows scattered reports of clashes overnight, with pro-Taliban social media accounts claiming gunmen were massing, and Afghanistan’s former vice president Amrullah Saleh saying resistance forces were holding strong.

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 on the weekend.

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

Afghan Resistance Force ‘Besieged’, Says Taliban

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 18, 2021 the leader of the Taliban negotiating team Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar looks on the final declaration of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban presented in Qatar’s capital Doha. 
KARIM JAAFAR / AFP

 

The Taliban said Monday their fighters had surrounded resistance forces holed up in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley but were looking to negotiate rather than take the fight to them.

The announcement follows scattered reports of clashes overnight, with pro-Taliban social media accounts claiming gunmen were massing, and Afghanistan’s former vice president saying resistance forces were holding strong.

Taliban fighters “are stationed near Panjshir”, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, saying they had the area surrounded on three sides.

“The Islamic Emirate is trying to resolve this issue peacefully,” he added.

Pro-resistance accounts on social media had dismissed earlier claims of being pushed back, saying Taliban fighters had been ambushed and routed.

Claims from either side were impossible to independently verify from a remote mountainous region that is largely inaccessible.

Panjshir — famous for its natural defences never penetrated by Soviet forces or the Taliban in earlier conflicts — remains the last major holdout of anti-Taliban forces led by Ahmad Massoud, son of the famed Mujahideen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud.

Former Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh is also there, and photos posted on social media in recent days have shown him in talks with Massoud.

The valley is guarded by a narrow gorge, making entry — or escape — extraordinarily difficult for outsiders, who can be picked off by entrenched forces positioned on higher ground.

A spokesman for Massoud’s anti-Taliban National Resistance Front told AFP at the weekend that the group was prepared for “long-term conflict”, but would prefer to negotiate for an inclusive government.

“The conditions for a peace deal with the Taliban are decentralisation, a system that ensures social justice, equality, rights, and freedom for all,” spokesman Ali Maisam Nazary told AFP.

Following the collapse of the US-backed government last week, the Taliban are consolidating their control over the country and holding a series of meetings with old foes — including opposition politicians and warlords.

-AFP

Afghan Guard Killed In Gunfight At Kabul Airport

A group of Afghan nationals arrive on the tarmac after disembarking from a Belgium military airplane at the military airport in Melsbroek near Brussels, on August 23, 2021.  organizations safely out of Afghanistan.
Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

 

German and US forces joined in a gun battle Monday at Kabul airport after Afghan guards and unknown assailants exchanged fire, with one guard killed, the German army said.

“This morning at 4.13 am, there was an exchange of fire between Afghan guards and unknown assailants at the North Gate of Kabul airport. An Afghan guard was killed, three others injured,” said the German army on Twitter.

“American and German forces participated in further exchange of fire,” it said, adding that no German soldiers were injured.

Kabul airport has seen chaotic scenes as tens of thousands of foreigners and Afghans seek to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban swept back to power more than a week ago.

The German army has since flown more than 2,500 people out using military planes.

-AFP