Thousands packed into the Afghan capital’s airport on Monday, rushing the tarmac and pushing onto planes in desperate attempts to flee the country after the Taliban overthrew the Western-backed government. U.S. soldiers fired warning shots as they struggled to manage the chaotic evacuation.
The Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing a stunning end to a two-decade campaign in which the U.S. and its allies had tried to transform Afghanistan. The country’s Western-trained security forces collapsed or fled in the face of an insurgent offensive that tore through the country in just over a week, ahead of the planned withdrawal of the last U.S. troops at the end of the month.
In the capital, a tense calm set in, with most people hiding in their homes as the Taliban deployed fighters at major intersections. There were scattered reports of looting and armed men knocking on doors and gates, and there was less traffic than usual on eerily quiet streets. Fighters could be seen searching vehicles at one of the city’s main squares.
Many fear chaos, after the Taliban freed thousands of prisoners and the police simply melted away, or a return to the kind of brutal rule the Taliban imposed when it was last in power.
Wahidullah Qadiri, a Kabul resident, said he hoped for peace after decades of war that have claimed the lives of two of his brothers and a cousin.
“We haven’t seen anything but catastrophes and fighting, so we always live with hope for a long-lasting peace,” he said.
Thousands of others doubted peace would come and raced to Kabul’s international airport. Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of people running across the tarmac as U.S. soldiers fired warning shots in the air. One showed a crowd pushing and shoving its way up a staircase, trying to board a plane, with some people hanging off the railings.
Massouma Tajik, a 22-year-old data analyst, described scenes of panic at the airport, where she was hoping to board an evacuation flight.
After waiting six hours, she heard shots from outside, where a crowd of men and women were trying to climb aboard a plane. She said U.S. troops sprayed gas and fired into the air to disperse the crowds after people scaled the walls and swarmed onto the tarmac. Gunfire could be heard in the voice messages she sent to The Associated Press.
The U.S. Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport to aid with the evacuation. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and nationals.
By morning, Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory saying the “civilian side” of the airport had been “closed until further notice” and that the military controlled the airspace.
The speed of the Taliban offensive through the country appears to have stunned U.S. officials. Just days before the insurgents entered Kabul with little if any resistance, a U.S. military assessment predicted it could take months for the capital to fall.
U.K. defence minister says Taliban ‘are in control’
The Taliban are in control of Afghanistan and British and NATO forces will not be returning to fight the insurgents, Britain’s defence minister said on Monday.
“I acknowledge that the Taliban are in control of the country,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News. “I mean, you don’t have to be a political scientist to spot that’s where we’re at.”
Asked if Britain and NATO would return to Afghanistan, Wallace said: “That’s not on the cards that we’re going to go back.”
WATCH | Advocates urge Canada to do more to help Afghanistan: Advocates urge Canada to do more to help AfghanistanCanada has closed its embassy in Kabul, but insists it’s continuing efforts to support Afghans who helped the Canadian mission as well as other refugees — but advocates are urging Ottawa to do more. 1:57
Wallace said the military side of Kabul airport was secure and that Britain was doing everything it could to evacuate British citizens and Afghans with links to Britain.
“Our target is … about 1,200 to 1,500 exit a day in the capacity of our airplanes, and we’ll keep that flow,” he said.
Britain has relocated its embassy to Kabul airport from the city. Asked what he would feel to see the Taliban flag flying over the former British embassy building in Kabul, Wallace said: “It’s not the embassy anymore, we have left that location … so it’s now just a building.
“Symbolically, it’s not what any of us wanted.”
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 with a harsh form of Islamic law. Women were largely confined to their homes and suspected criminals faced amputation or public execution. The Taliban have sought to project greater moderation in recent years, but many Afghans remain skeptical and fear a rollback of individual rights.
Taliban fighters stand guard along a street near the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on Monday. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)
The Taliban had also harboured Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the years before they carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. That sparked a U.S.-led invasion that rapidly scattered al-Qaeda and drove the Taliban from power. But the U.S. lost focus during the Iraq war and the Taliban eventually regrouped. The militants captured much of the Afghan countryside in recent years and then swept into cities as U.S. forces prepared to withdraw ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline.
When the Taliban last seized Kabul in 1996 it had been heavily damaged in the civil war that broke out among rival warlords after the Soviet withdrawal seven years earlier. The city was then home to around a million people, most travelling on dusty roads by bicycle or aging taxi.
Today Kabul is a built-up city home to five million people where luxury vehicles and SUVs struggle to push through endemic traffic jams. Many of the younger Taliban fighters hail from rural areas without electricity or running water, and are getting their first glimpse of a modern city they had only previously heard stories about.
Scource From CBC News