After President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday as the Taliban entered the capital virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed, while hundreds of Afghans desperate to leave flooded Kabul airport.
The Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan over after taking control of the presidential palace in Kabul. However, Western countries struggled on Monday to evacuate their citizens amid chaos at the airport as frantic Afghans searched for a way out.
“Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen. They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years,” Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told a TV Channel.
Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices in their imposition of Sharia law. During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.
NATO Allies Defeated
NATO allies that had pulled out their forces ahead of the Biden administration’s intended Aug 31 withdrawal deadline were rushing troops back in as well this weekend, to airlift their citizens. Some complained the US was failing to move fast enough to bring to safety Afghans at risk of reprisal from the Taliban for past work with the Americans and other NAT0 forces.
“This is murder by incompetence,” said US Air Force veteran Sam Lerman, struggling on Sunday from his home in Woodbridge, Virginia, to find a way out for an Afghan contractor who had guarded Americans and other Nato forces at Afghanistan’s Bagram air base for a decade. Massouma Tajik, a 22-year-old data analyst, was among hundreds of Afghans waiting anxiously in the Kabul airport to board an evacuation flight. “I see people crying, they are not sure whether their flight will happen or not. Neither am I,” she said by phone, with panic in her voice.
Even as CH-47 helicopters shuttled American diplomats to the airport, and facing criticism at home over the administration’s handling of the withdrawal, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected comparisons to the 1975 fall of Saigon. Hundreds or more Afghans crowded in a part of the airport away from many of the evacuating Westerners. Some of them, including a man with a broken leg sitting on the ground, lined up for what was expected to be a last flight out by the country’s Ariana Airlines.
US officials reported gunfire near the airport on Sunday evening and urged civilians to stop coming. US military officials later announced closing the airport to commercial flights, shutting one of the last avenues of escape for ordinary Afghans. US C-17 transport planes were due to bring thousands of fresh American troops to the airport, then fly out again with evacuating US embassy staffers.
The Pentagon intends to have enough aircraft to fly out as many as 5,000 civilians a day, both Americans and the Afghan translators and others who worked with the US during the war. But tens of thousands of Afghans who have worked with US and other NATO forces are seeking to flee with family members. And it was by no means clear how long Kabul’s deteriorating security would allow any evacuations to continue.
Americans Leave Afghanis People Dying
A US State Department spokesperson said early on Monday that all embassy personnel, including Ambassador Ross Wilson, had been transferred to Kabul airport, mostly by helicopter, to await evacuation and the American flag had been lowered and removed from the embassy compound. Hundreds of Afghans invaded the airport’s runways in the dark, pulling luggage and jostling for a place on one of the last commercial flights to leave before US forces took over air traffic control on Sunday.
“This is our airport but we are seeing diplomats being evacuated while we wait in complete uncertainty,” said Rakhshanda Jilali, a human rights activist who was trying to get to Pakistan, told Reuters in a message from the airport. US forces managing the airport fired into the air to stop Afghans surging onto the tarmac to try to board a military flight, a US official said.
Dozens of men tried to clamber up onto an overhead departure gangway to board a plane while hundreds of others milled about, a video posted on social media showed. The Pentagon on Sunday authorized another 1,000 troops to help evacuate US citizens and Afghans who worked for them, expanding its security presence on the ground to almost 6,000 troops within the next 48 hours. More than 60 western countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Japan, issued a joint statement saying all Afghans and international citizens who wanted to leave must be allowed to do so.
Western nations, including France, Germany and New Zealand said they were working to get citizens as well as some Afghan employees out. Russia said it saw no need to evacuate its embassy for the time being while Turkey said its embassy would continue operations. In a Facebook post, Ghani said he had left the country to avoid clashes with the Taliban that would endanger millions of Kabul residents. Some social media users branded Ghani, who did not disclose his location, a coward for leaving them in chaos.
“This is being done in a very deliberate way, it’s being done in an orderly way,” Blinken insisted in an interview.
A joint statement from the US State and Defence departments pledged late on Sunday to fly thousands of Americans, local embassy staff and other “particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals” out of the country. It gave no details, but high-profile Afghan women, journalists, and Afghans who’ve worked with Western governments and nonprofits are among those who fear Taliban targeting for alleged Western ways or ties.
The statement promised to speed up visa processing for Afghans who used to work with American troops and officials in particular. Underscoring the difficulty the US has had getting those Afghans out ahead of the Taliban, the statement could only assure “we will find” other countries to host some of those Afghans.
To many, however, the evacuations, and last-ditch rescue attempts by Americans and other foreigners trying to save Afghan allies, appeared far from orderly. An Italian journalist, Francesca Mannocchi, posted a video of an Italian helicopter carrying her to the airport, an armed soldier standing guard at a window.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and expressed particular concern about the future of women and girls. The UN also said the Security Council would meet over Afghanistan on today. In Washington, opponents of US President Joe Biden’s decision to end America’s longest war, launched after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, said the chaos was caused by a failure of leadership.
Biden has faced rising domestic criticism after sticking to a plan, initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, to end the US military mission by Aug 31. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blamed Biden for what he called a “shameful failure of American leadership”.
“Terrorists and major competitors like China are watching the embarrassment of a superpower laid low,” McConnell said. Naeem said the Taliban would adopt an international policy of two-way non-interference. “We do not think that foreign forces will repeat their failed experience.”