Witnesses said the Taliban fired in the air and used batons to force desperate people to flee Afghanistan to form organized queues outside Kabul airport on Sunday, a day after seven people were killed in a stampede at the gates.
There were no major casualties on Sunday as gunmen battered the crowds, witnesses said, and the United States said it had now been able to transport large numbers of Americans to the airport.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said seven Afghans were killed in a stampede around the airport on Saturday as thousands tried to leave the plane, a week after Islamist militants seized control of the country.
Sky News showed soldiers standing on a wall on Saturday trying to retrieve the wounded from the stampede and spraying people with a hose to prevent them from becoming dehydrated.
“Conditions on the ground remain very difficult, but we are doing our best to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible,” the ministry said.
A NATO official said at least 20 people had died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Witnesses said some were shot, while others died in a stampede.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a virtual meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations on Tuesday “to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people”.
Fearful of reprisals, terrified Afghans tried to board flights and return to a strict version of Islamic law practiced by the Sunni Muslim group when it was in power two decades ago.
Taliban leaders, who have sought to show a more moderate face since seizing Kabul last Sunday, began talks on forming a government.
They face opposition from forces in northern Afghanistan, which this week said they had captured three districts near the Panjshir Valley.
Anti-Taliban leader Ahmed Masoud said on Sunday he hoped to hold peaceful talks with the Islamist movement, but his forces in Panjshir – remnants of army units, special forces and militias – were ready to fight.
“We want to make the Taliban realize that the only way forward is through negotiations,” he said. “We don’t want a war to break out.”
The United States and other countries including Britain have sent several thousand troops to help evacuate foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans, but have taken care to avoid clashes with the Taliban.
“We are seeking a full clarification of the plan for the exit of foreign forces,” a Taliban official said.
The spokesman for the political office of the Taliban, Muhammad Naim, said in an interview with the Saudi-owned Al-Hadath channel that talks are underway with the United States and other countries. Naim also said that al-Qaeda does not exist in Afghanistan and the Taliban has nothing to do with it.
Afghans who fled this week spoke of their desperation to leave their loved ones behind. “It was very difficult to leave my country,” a veiled woman told Reuters in Qatar. “I love my country.”
The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have called for the establishment of a humanitarian air bridge to deliver aid to Afghanistan to help more than 18 million people in need.
The United States and Germany told their nationals in Afghanistan on Saturday to avoid travel to Kabul airport, citing security risks as desperate crowds gathered, but Washington said on Sunday the situation had improved.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN State of the Union that the United States “has secured the ability to have safe passage for large numbers of Americans through the airport and into the airport.”
Major General William Taylor said Saturday that 5,800 US troops remain at the airport, which “remains safe”.
The United States on Sunday ordered six commercial airlines to help transport people evacuated from Afghanistan. The US Department of Defense (the Pentagon) said it had recalled 18 commercial aircraft from United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air and others to transport evacuees from temporary sites, which include dozens of countries across Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Last week, Taylor said, the United States evacuated 17,000 people from Kabul, including 2,500 Americans.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia flew four flights to Kabul on Saturday, evacuating more than 300 people. The Netherlands said it would increase its military presence in Afghanistan to help with evacuation efforts.
Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the idea of sending the evacuees to countries close to Russia, saying he did not want “militants to appear here under the cover of refugees”.
The US Air Force said on Twitter that an Afghan woman gave birth on board a flight moments after landing at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Saturday. The woman gave birth to a baby girl in the cargo hold of a C-17. The tweet said the mother and baby are doing well.
The Taliban seized power as US-led forces withdrew after a 20-year war that US President Joe Biden had sought to end.
Afghan girls do not see a future in Afghanistan…
Biden was criticized for the way the war ended and poor planning, and was scheduled to speak on Afghanistan at 8pm Irish time.
Meanwhile, Taliban leaders are trying to form a new government, and the group’s co-founder, Mullah Baradar, has arrived in Kabul for talks.
Hardline Islamists said they wanted peace and would respect women’s rights within the framework of Islamic law.
When she was in power from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned women from working or going out without the fully encased burqa, and girls from attending school.
“Lector profesional. Jugador galardonado. Aficionado a los zombis. Adicto a las redes sociales. Experto en tocino. Erudito en Internet”