Crowds gather at the airport in Afghanistan’s capital in desperation in an attempt to flee the country after the Taliban seize power. At least seven people will have died. Pentagon confirms US military killed two gunmen at the airport.
With chaos in Kabul, the Afghan capital already in the hands of the Taliban, US President Joe Biden will interrupt his vacation to deliver a speech to the nation this Monday about the dramatic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, announced the White House.
Biden, currently at the Camp David presidential residence, will return to Washington and “will comment on Afghanistan” in the East Room of the White House, a statement said. The conference was scheduled for 15:45 local time (20.45 in Portugal).
Biden’s reaction will allow an initial official response from the US president to the criticisms, both internal and international, which are aimed at the withdrawal of US troops.
However, all military and civilian flights have been suspended at Kabul airport due to crowds of Afghans storming the runway trying to leave the country, the Pentagon spokesman said on Monday (16). “US military forces are on the ground working together with Turkish and other international troops to disperse people. We don’t know how long this will take,” explained John Kirby.
This was on a day when chaos broke out at the airport in Kabul, after the entry of Taliban forces in the Afghan capital on Sunday. Thousands intend to leave the country, heading for the airport, where they try to force entry onto the planes. At least seven people died, according to data advanced by the Associated Press (AP), with the Pentagon confirming that US soldiers killed two gunmen at the airport.
“Among the thousands of people who were there peacefully, two men with guns started waving them threateningly. Both were killed,” said the official, anonymously quoted by AFP.
Thousands of American soldiers have taken control of security at Afghanistan’s main international airport. Meanwhile, Afghan citizens flocked to the airport and stormed the runway in search of commercial flights to flee the country.
Videos showed hundreds of attempts to prevent a US military transport from taking off, and there were reports that some were killed, being crushed, or falling after takeoff, as US military personnel fired shots into the air to disperse the trying crowds, in desperation, flee the country.
“The crowd was out of control,” a US official told Reuters. The shots were fired “just to calm the chaos,” he said.
Videos circulating on social networks showing thousands of people at the airport in Kabul, with some desperately trying to climb onto the departing planes.
— Nicola Careem (@NicolaCareem) August 16, 2021
US military personnel, who spoke on condition that they could not be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing operation, told the Associated Press (AP) that the chaos left seven dead, including several who fell from a plane that had taken off.
“We are afraid to live in this city,” a 25-year-old former soldier told AFP as he stood on one of the runways at the Hamid Karzai international airport in Kabul, which is closed to commercial connections.
In fact, several airlines have suspended flights in Afghan airspace, including Air France, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic.
A witness told EFE that he had seen “three civilians and one Taliban fighter killed in a shootout between Taliban and US forces.”
According to Mirwais Yusufi’s account, the shooting was triggered after a Taliban ordered several Afghan civilians to leave the airport.
When they refused to obey the order, the Taliban fired at them, triggering a response from US forces, who opened fire on the rebel, killing him on the spot.
“After the shooting everyone started running and then we saw three civilians killed, I don’t know if they were killed by American soldiers or by the Taliban,” added the witness quoted by EFE.
Six thousand US soldiers were sent to Kabul airport
The entry of Taliban forces into the Afghan capital after President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan ended a two-decade military campaign in which the United States and allies, including Portugal, tried to transform the country, without success.
Afghan security forces, trained by the foreign military, collapsed before the Taliban entered the city of Kabul.
The US sent about 6,000 troops to the international airport to ensure the safe evacuation of US embassy personnel, as well as Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other support functions.
Massouma Tajik, 22, a computer programmer describes “panic scenes” at the airport where she is, among hundreds of people who tried to board a plane abroad.
The computer programmer, quoted by the Associated Press, said that after six hours at the airport she heard gunfire as “a crowd of men and women” tried to board a plane.
Guterres: world must unite to fight “terrorist threat”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on the international community to unite to “remove the terrorist threat” in Afghanistan, following the return to power of the Taliban in the country.
“The international community must come together to ensure that Afghanistan will never again be used as a platform or a refuge for terrorist organizations,” Guterres said at an emergency Security Council meeting.
António Guterres also urged “the Taliban and all parties to respect and protect international humanitarian law and the rights and freedoms of all people”, declaring that he was “particularly concerned about reports of increasing violations of women’s human rights and of the Afghan girls”.
More than 60 countries call for the Taliban “responsibility”
Afghan nationals and foreigners wishing to leave Afghanistan “must be properly authorized,” says a joint statement by the US and 65 other countries, warning the Taliban that they must show “responsibility” over the issue of withdrawal.
Previously, the European Union stressed that the Taliban’s entry into Kabul makes “protection more urgent” against possible reprisals against Afghan civilians hired by foreigners and who must be placed in safety.
The US State Department organized “security measures” at Kabul airport and regrouped embassy personnel for the operation to evacuate the Taliban-controlled city.
US flag was taken from the embassy in Kabul
At the international airport, the US military fired tear gas grenades and fired shots in an attempt to drive civilians away from the plane.
The US embassy was evacuated and the flag lowered and US diplomats were led to the airport.
Other Western countries have also closed their diplomatic missions and are withdrawing officials and locally hired workers.
Germany and France send military flights for repatriation
Germany and France are going to send military flights to Afghanistan to withdraw their national citizens, especially diplomatic officials.
The first air connection for the withdrawal of French citizens organized by the executive in Paris should take place by the end of Monday, said the minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly.
The rotation of flights will take place between a French base in the United Arab Emirates and the capital of Afghanistan dominated by Taliban forces since Sunday.
According to the minister, “a few dozen Frenchmen” will be repatriated, as well as “people who are found” under the protection of Paris will be removed from Afghanistan.
Germany sent the first Air Force transport aircraft (A400M) to Kabul to evacuate Berlin embassy personnel, German citizens, and locally hired Afghan workers from Afghanistan.
On Sunday, an American aircraft departed from the Afghan capital, with 40 German citizens on board and which is already in Qatar, according to ARD television.
Several elements of the German embassy are still at the military terminal at Kabul airport, protected by US soldiers, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Sunday.
The first phase is to establish an “air bridge” between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan with the people who will be evacuated by the German authorities later on to Germany.
An extraordinary meeting of EU diplomacy heads scheduled for Tuesday
And “following the latest developments in Afghanistan”, the European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Policy convened an extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers from 27 to Tuesday to discuss the situation in the country, where Taliban forces regained power.
“Following the latest developments in Afghanistan, and after intense contacts with partners over the past few days and hours, I decided to convene for tomorrow [Tuesday] an extraordinary videoconference of the EU Foreign Ministers for a first assessment”, he announced. Josep Borrell, in a post on his official Twitter account.
The head of EU diplomacy adds, in a second publication, that “Afghanistan is at a crossroads”, noting that “the security and well-being of its citizens, as well as international security, are at stake”.
The United Nations Security Council will also meet this Monday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
Following latest developments in #Afghanistan, and after intense contacts with partners in the past days and hours, I decided to convene an extraordinary VTC of EU Foreign Ministers #FAC tomorrow afternoon for a first assessment.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) August 16, 2021
In addition to the US, several other countries, including Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Spain, have also transferred their diplomatic personnel to the airport.
Afghanistan cannot go back to being a sanctuary of terror, says Santos Silva
The Portuguese foreign minister considered this Monday (16) unacceptable that Afghanistan should once again be a sanctuary for terrorist groups, but he believes that now it is necessary to use diplomacy to demand the Taliban to comply with national and international rules.
“Afghanistan cannot once again become a sanctuary for terrorist movements. This must be clear to everyone, clear to the international community, to NATO, to the European Union and we hope it is also clear that the new Afghan authorities when they are constituted,” said Augusto Santos Silva in statements to Lusa news agency.
The minister recalled that the Taliban guaranteed that their return to power does not mean “the risk of life and security for people or the situation of women and, in particular, their right to education” and that, according to the radical movement Islamic, there will be no return to violence in Afghanistan.
Russian ambassador meets Taliban on Tuesday
Russia, meanwhile, has made it known that its ambassador to Afghanistan will meet this Tuesday with Taliban representatives in Kabul and will decide whether or not to recognize the authorities now in power in Afghanistan.
“Our ambassador is in contact with the Taliban leadership and tomorrow he will meet with the security coordinator,” said Zamir Kabulov, an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview with radio station Ekho Moscow this Monday. The official said that talks between the ambassador of Moscow, Dmitry Zhirnov, and the Taliban will focus on the security of the Russian embassy in the Afghan capital.
The Taliban “are already securing the outer perimeter of the Russian embassy. Tomorrow, they will discuss the details in the long term,” said Kabulov, quoted by the AFP agency.
Russia had already indicated on Sunday that it was not considering an evacuation of its embassy in Kabul, asserting that it had received assurances from the Taliban regarding the security of its diplomatic mission.
“The situation in Kabul is calm, surprising as it is,” Kabulov said.
Also, this Monday, the People’s Republic of China, which shares 76 kilometers with Afghanistan, announced that it wants to maintain “friendly relations” with the Taliban, following the seizure of Kabul.
Beijing “respects the right of the Afghan people to decide their own destiny,” Chinese diplomat spokesperson Hua Chunying told a press conference.
“There are Taliban fighters on every street and at the intersections of the city”
In the city of Kabul, most residents remain indoors but there are reports of looting by armed men.
Taliban forces released thousands of prisoners from various prisons across the country during the offensive that has taken place over the past few weeks.
Taliban fighters have been deployed to the city’s major thoroughfares and to intersections in the city center, according to videos that have been released in recent hours.
“There are Taliban fighters on every street and at the intersections of the city,” Shah Molhmmad, a 55-year-old gardener, told the Associated Press, noting that there is less traffic of motor vehicles and motorcycles on the capital’s streets.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesperson said via Twitter that “fighters are under orders not to enter civilians’ homes and to protect life, property, and honor.”
The Islamic Emirate has ordered its Mujahideen and once again instructs them that no one is allowed to enter anyone's house without permission. Life, property and honor of none shall be harmed but must be protected by the Mujahedeen.
— Suhail Shaheen. محمد سهیل شاهین (@suhailshaheen1) August 16, 2021
The same spokesman also said that the forces will stay out of the neighborhood where the embassies are located, where the American complex is located, to “avoid confusion and problems”.
In the same neighborhood are the homes of Afghan “warlords” who have fled to Kabul in recent weeks on the run from the Taliban offensive.
Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban between 1996 and 2001 imposing “Islamic Law”: women were forced to confinement at home and people accused of crimes were amputated or executed in the public square.
An estimated five million people currently live in the city of Kabul.
Source: with Agencies