Wednesday 9/29/21

Desperation mounts at Kabul airport as escape window narrows

A report compiled for the United Nations warned that the Taliban is conducting targeted searches for supposed collaborators with the former regime
18 August 2021, Afghanistan, Kabul: 2 Marines from the 24th Expeditionary Unit (MEU) guide a woman carrying a child in her arms during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. US soldiers and Marines are assisting the State Department with an orderly withdrawal of designated personnel in Afghanistan. Photo: Nicholas Guevara/U.S. Marines via ZUMA Press Wire Service/dpa
Marines from the 24th Expeditionary Unit guide a woman carrying a child in her arms during an evacuation. Photo: Nicholas Guevara/US Marines/dpa.

There was a growing sense of desperation at Kabul airport on Friday as people crowded to the civilian and military parts of the facility in an effort to escape the country following the takeover of the Taliban, before Western forces depart.

Meanwhile, a report compiled for the United Nations warned that the Taliban is conducting targeted searches for supposed collaborators with the former regime - despite assurances by the radical Islamist group that it would not carry out reprisals.

Amid the chaos and confusion, a German citizen suffered a gunshot wound on his way to the airport, a government spokesperson said. The civilian had been given medical care and would soon be flown out.

Hundreds of people were crowding around the civilian entrance to the airport, located at a large roundabout, trying to enter the compound, witnesses said.

Taliban fighters fired guns into the air and cracked whips to drive people away.

Kabul's airport has a civilian and a military section. As the Taliban controls and blocks access to the civilian airport, people were also trying to enter the military section.

Broadcaster CNN showed images of US soldiers firing guns into the air to repel the crowds.

Pressure is growing partly due to the United States' deadline to complete the withdrawal of its troops by August 31. Other countries rushing to evacuate their citizens in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover depend on the support and security provided by US forces.

'Extremely confusing' situation

The German embassy wrote on Friday that the situation at Kabul airport was extremely confusing, and stated that there had been repeated armed confrontations at the gates.

However, it said access to the airport was possible, although the gates might be repeatedly shut at short notice, due to the pressure of the crowds.

Thousands have attempted to flee Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power on Sunday, fearful of retribution acts by the militant Islamist group.

With commercial air travel suspended, the only hope for many is to make it onto foreign evacuation flights.

Earlier, Afghanistan's top sport authority confirmed the death of a young footballer who fell from a US aircraft in an attempt to escape.

Zaki Anwari, a 19-year old player in Afghanistan's national youth football team "has lost his life in a tragic accident," the General Directorate of Physical Education and Sports posted on Facebook late on Thursday.

"Deceased Anwari was among hundreds of youth trying to leave the country, he fell off a US military plane and lost his life," the sport authority added.

A report compiled for the UN has warned that the Taliban is openly threatening family members with reprisals as it searches for supposed collaborators with the former regime.

"Particularly at risk are individuals in central positions in military, police and investigative units," says the confidential four-page report by the RHIPTO Norwegian Center for Global Analyses.

The head of the think tank, Christian Nellemann, dismissed the Taliban's assurances that they will not retaliate against opponents. "They are simply trying to keep them in place in order to apprehend them," he says.

Kabul lockdown

According to the report, the Taliban had mapped the whereabouts of individuals they wanted to arrest before seizing major cities. They have been arresting or threatening family members if people do not surrender, it adds, citing an apparent Taliban letter to a former high-ranking Afghan security official as evidence.

The report says the Western focus on repatriation efforts is allowing the Taliban to target Afghans and warns of a lockdown of the outer perimeter of Kabul in the coming days.

It cites the possibility of public executions as a worst-case scenario, as well as a possible targeting of Westerners critical of the Taliban.

Elsewhere, French President Emmanuel Macron called on Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden to work together on the situation in Afghanistan, in two separate phone calls.

In his call with Biden, Macron stressed the absolute need for close international coordination among the allies present in Afghanistan to rescue embassy staff, local employees and other Afghans at risk, the Elysee Palace said.

The West "cannot abandon" Afghans in need of protection, Macron said.

In his call with Putin, Macron discussed expectations of the Taliban, including breaking with international terror groups, combating drugs and weapons trafficking, and respecting women's rights.

Facebook, meanwhile, took steps to protect accounts in Afghanistan, by temporarily removing the ability to view and search users' friend lists, as well as making it easier for users to block their account, Facebook's head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher announced on Twitter.