Afghans faced an increasingly desperate race to escape life under the Taliban on Wednesday after President Joe Biden confirmed that the US-led evacuations would end next week.
More than 70,000 people have already been evacuated, but huge crowds remain outside Kabul airport in hopes of fleeing the threat of retaliation and repression in Taliban-led Afghanistan.
Biden said on Tuesday that the United States would meet its August 31 deadline to fully withdraw its troops despite warnings from European allies that not all vulnerable Afghans could leave by then.
“The sooner we can finish, the better… every day of operations brings additional risk to our troops,” Biden said Tuesday.
“We are currently close to closing on August 31st. “
Many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal five-year Taliban rule that was toppled in 2001, and violent retaliation for working with foreign servicemen, Western missions and the previous US-backed government.
Washington and its allies transport thousands of these Afghans in massive military transports every day, but it has become an increasingly difficult and desperate task.
The airport in the Afghan capital is in chaos as US-led troops attempt to maintain a secure perimeter for evacuation flights, surrounded by desperate Afghans.
Some have foreign passports, visas, or are eligible to travel, but most do not. At least eight people have died in the chaos.
“Does anyone … SOMEONE … have a contact inside the airport,” pleaded an American from a WhatsApp group set up to share information on how people can access at the airport.
“My guy worked for us in 2010-15 and needs to go out with 5 of his family. This is really bad. “
The Taliban have also been accused of blocking or slowing the access of many people trying to reach the airport, although they again denied the accusation on Tuesday evening.
Biden said the Taliban was taking action to help, but that there was also an “acute and growing risk” of attack by the regional branch of the jihadist group Islamic State.
CIA Director William Burns traveled to Kabul for a secret meeting with top Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, US media reported on Tuesday, the highest-level meeting to date between the US government and the United States. new rulers of Afghanistan.
The New York Times said the spy chief was not there to negotiate an extension of the withdrawal deadline, but for general discussions on “evacuation operations and terrorist threats.”
– ‘It won’t be enough’ –
Despite the heartbreaking scenes at Kabul airport, the Taliban ruled out any extension of next Tuesday’s deadline for withdrawing foreign troops, calling it a “red line”.
“They have planes, they have the airport, they should get their citizens and contractors out of here,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Tuesday.
European countries have said they will not be able to airlift all at-risk Afghans until August 31.
“Even if (the evacuation) continues for a few more days, it will not be enough,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Bild TV.
A strict withdrawal period presents an additional complication that can reduce the number of daily evacuations.
The United States has deployed fresh troops for the evacuations.
This contingent of more than 6,000 people, as well as hundreds of American officials, 600 Afghan soldiers and equipment, will have to be evacuated by plane.
To do so by Aug.31, the Pentagon has said operations should begin to end days in advance.
– Taliban urge Afghans to stay –
After their lightning victory that stunned the world, the Taliban has so far been content to let the US-led operation continue, focusing instead on consolidating control and forming a government.
They promised a gentler and more inclusive regime this time around, offering amnesty to opponents and assuring women’s rights.
But many Afghans remain fearful and skeptical.
But Zabihullah Mujahid added that women working for the Afghan government should stay at home until the security situation improves.
The Taliban have said women will be able to get an education and work, but within what they see as Islamic limits.
© 2021 AFP