By Ahmed Seer, Tamim Akhgar and John Gambrel
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – At least seven Afghans were killed in a panic-stricken crush of people trying to enter Kabul’s international airport, British military said on Sunday, a week after the Taliban takeover. Thousands of people were also trying to flee the country in a chaotic exodus. .
The Taliban advanced to face the first bout of armed resistance since taking over nearly all of Afghanistan in a matter of days earlier this month. Anti-Taliban fighters claimed they had seized three mountainous districts, and a prominent militia commander in the only province not yet under Taliban control promised to fight back if attacked.
The British military acknowledged at least seven deaths at the airport on Sunday. Taliban fighters fired shots into the air to try to disperse the crowd, others were crushed, suffocated or suffered heart attacks. The soldiers covered many corpses in white clothes. In an attempt to pacify the crowd, other soldiers stood on the concrete barrier.
Kabul’s airport, now one of the only routes out of the country, has been in turmoil since the Taliban entered the capital on August 15. Thousands of people took to the streets last week and many Afghans starved to their deaths after clinging to one America. On 16 August some of the seven died as the military cargo plane took off.
The Taliban have promised amnesty to those working with the US, NATO and the toppling Afghan government, but many Afghans still fear retaliatory attacks. In recent days there have been reports that the Taliban are hunting their former enemies. It is not clear whether Taliban leaders are saying and doing something, or whether fighters are taking matters into their own hands.
Outside the airport on Saturday, Western troops in full combat gear tried to control the crowd, which can be seen in satellite images. They took some people who were sweaty and pale. With the temperature reaching 34 °C (93 F), soldiers sprayed water from a hose and bottled water at the gathered people.
“The situation at Kabul airport remains extremely challenging and unpredictable,” a NATO official said on condition of anonymity, in keeping with the rules. Officials were not able to confirm the exact number of casualties.
The US embassy, which has moved to the military side of the airport, has asked US citizens and others not to come to the airport until they have received precise instructions.
President Joe Biden said the US-led evacuation of at-risk Afghans and others from Kabul airport accelerated this weekend, although it remains vulnerable to threats from the Islamic State extremist group.
Biden told reporters at the White House that 11,000 people were airlifted from Kabul in a 36-hour period this weekend, though he did not give details. The numbers include charter and non-US military aircraft as well as US Air Force C-17 and C-130 transport aircraft flying daily from the capital.
Biden said his first priority is to get American citizens out of the country “as quickly and safely as possible.”
“We’re working hard to get people out and we’re working as fast as we can,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “That’s our mission. That’s our goal.”
Earlier, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN that 3,900 people were flown on US military flights from Kabul in the past 24 hours, up from 1,600 the previous day. It has airlifted about 3,900 people from non-US military flights in the past 24 hours. That’s far below the 5,000 to 9,000 that the military says it has the capacity to airlift daily.
Britain said it had airlifted more than 5,000 people, including 1,000, in the past 14 hours.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, requesting 18 aircraft from US carriers to assist in transporting Afghan refugees after being evacuated to other countries. The voluntary program, born in the wake of the Berlin airlift, adds to the military’s capabilities during the crisis.
Biden has vowed to bring home all Americans from Afghanistan and to evacuate Afghans who aided the US war effort. US military helicopters have been used to collect 169 Americans from outside the airport. Thousands of Americans and others are still hoping to get out.
There are also concerns about a possible attack on the airport by a local Islamic State affiliate. US military aircraft are carrying out corkscrew landings, and other aircraft have opened fire on takeoff, a measure used to deter missile attacks.
The Taliban accused the US military of a chaotic evacuation, saying Afghans have nothing to fear from them, even as their fighters shoot in the air and beat people with batons as they try to control the crowd outside the airport. Let’s try.
“All of Afghanistan is safe, but the airport, which is managed by the Americans, is in chaos,” Amir Khan Motaki, a senior Taliban official, said on Sunday. The US must not “shame itself for the world and give our people the mentality that (the Taliban) is an enemy of sorts.”
Speaking to an Iranian state television channel on Saturday night, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem also blamed the Americans for the deaths at the airport.
“The Americans announced ‘we will take you with us to America’ and people gathered at Kabul airport,” Naeem said. “If it were announced now in any country in the world, wouldn’t people go?”
The Taliban have sought to project a more liberal image than they ruled the country in the past, from 1996 until the US-led invasion after the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaeda carried out while sheltered by the Taliban. . During her earlier regime, women were largely confined to their homes, television and music were banned, and public executions were carried out – all under the Taliban’s harsher version of Islamic rule.
This time, the Taliban are negotiating political change with Afghan officials from previous governments, saying they will restore peace and security after decades of war. Afghan officials familiar with the talks say the Taliban have said they will not announce a government until after the August 31 deadline for the US withdrawal.
But they are already facing a wave of resistance.
In Baghlan province, about 120 kilometers (75 mi) north of Kabul, fighters calling themselves the “People’s Rebellion” claimed they had seized three districts in the Andrab Valley, which lies in the vast Hindu Kush mountains. .
Former provincial intelligence chief Khair Mohamed Khairkhawa and another leader in the insurgency, Abdul Ahmed Dadgar, said Taliban fighters burned houses and kidnapped children. Two other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, made similar allegations. The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In nearby Panjshir province – the only one under Taliban control – a group of militia leaders and ousted government officials have vowed to defend it against the Taliban, who broadcast videos showing their fighters heading towards the region.
The province is home to Northern Coalition fighters who joined forces with the US to topple the Taliban in 2001, and Ahmed Masood, son of a well-known Northern Coalition commander killed days before the 9/11 attacks, is in video from there. have appeared.
But it seems unlikely that a few thousand guerrilla fighters will soon succeed where the Afghan National Security Forces failed despite 20 years of Western aid, aid and training.
In an interview with the al-Arabiya News Network, Masood said, “If the Taliban chieftains attack, they will certainly face our stiff resistance.” But he also expressed openness to talks with the Taliban.
Akhgar reported from Istanbul and Gambrel from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem, Robert Burns and Darlene Superville in Washington, Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, and Lolita C. Baldor contributed.
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