| 26 May 2024, Sunday |

Taliban prevent some people from reaching Kabul airport, as US vows to finish airlift

While President Joe Biden vowed to keep US troops in the country until all Americans are moved to safety, armed members of the Taliban kept people desperate to flee Afghanistan from reaching Kabul’s airport.

Since the Taliban entered Kabul at the weekend, scenes of chaos have unfolded as thousands try to leave, fearing a return to the austere interpretation of Islamic law imposed during the previous Taliban rule, which ended 20 years ago.

“Everyone wants out,” said a member of an Afghan family on arrival in Germany. “Every day is worse than the day before. We saved ourselves but we couldn’t rescue our families.”

Witnesses said Taliban members prevented people from getting into the airport compound, including those with the documents required to travel.

“It’s a complete disaster. The Taliban were firing into the air, pushing people, beating them with AK47s,” said one person who was trying to get through.

A Taliban official said commanders and soldiers had fired into the air to disperse crowds outside Kabul airport, but told Reuters: “We have no intention to injure anyone.”

As the airlift of western citizens and Afghans who worked for foreign governments sought to accelerate, Mr Biden said US forces would remain until all Americans were safe, even if that meant staying past the August 31 deadline for complete US withdrawal.

The president, who has faced criticism about the US departure, said chaos was inevitable. Asked in an interview with ABC News if the exit of US troops could have been handled better, Mr Biden said: “No … the idea that somehow, there’s a way to have got out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens.”

US officials have told the Taliban “that we expect them to allow all American citizens, all third-country nationals, and all Afghans who wish to leave, to do so safely and without harassment,” US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in Washington.

Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said security at Kabul airport was stable and the Taliban were not interfering with US military operations.

Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations are due to discuss the evacuation effort and will seek to co-ordinate flights at an online meeting on Thursday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

About 5,000 diplomats, security staff, aid workers and Afghans have been flown from Kabul in the past 24 hours and military flights will continue around the clock, a western official told Reuters.

But the 4,500 US troops in Kabul cannot help bring people to the airport to be flown out because they are focused on securing the airfield, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Washington, acknowledging that evacuation numbers had not reached targets.

  • The National News