Armed members of the Taliban kept people desperate to flee Afghanistan from reaching Kabul’s airport on Wednesday, witnesses said, while President Joe Biden vowed to keep U.S. troops in the country until all Americans are evacuated.
Since the Taliban entered Kabul over the weekend, scenes of chaos have unfolded as thousands seek to leave, fearing a return to the austere interpretation of Islamic law imposed during the previous Taliban rule that ended 20 years ago.
“Every day is worse than the day before. We saved ourselves but we couldn’t rescue our families,” said a member of an Afghan family after it arrived in Germany.
Witnesses said Taliban members prevented people from getting into the airport compound, including those with the necessary documents to travel.
“It’s a complete disaster. The Taliban were firing into the air, pushing people, beating them with AK47s,” said one person who was trying to get through.
A Taliban official said commanders and soldiers had fired into the air to disperse crowds outside Kabul airport, but told Reuters: “We have no intention to injure anyone.”
As the airlift of Western citizens and Afghans who worked for foreign governments sought to ramp up, Biden said U.S. forces would remain until the evacuation of Americans was finished, even if that meant staying past the Aug. 31 U.S. deadline for complete withdrawal.
But the 4,500 U.S. troops in Kabul cannot help bring people to the airport for evacuation because they are focused on securing the airfield, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a Washington news conference, acknowledging that evacuations had not reached targets.
Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations are due to discuss the evacuation effort and seek to coordinate flights at a virtual meeting on Thursday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
ANTI-TALIBAN PROTESTS IN JALALABAD
In Jalalabad, at least three people were killed in anti-Taliban protests on Wednesday, witnesses said. The protests provided an early test of the Taliban’s promise of peaceful rule.
After seizing power, the Taliban said they would not take revenge against old enemies and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.
Two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters that Taliban fighters opened fire when residents tried to install Afghanistan’s national flag at a square in the city, killing three and injuring more than a dozen.
Taliban spokespeople could not be reached for comment.
A new government to replace that of President Ashraf Ghani, who is in exile in the United Arab Emirates, may take the form of a ruling council, with Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada in overall charge, a senior member of the group said.
Afghanistan would not be a democracy. “It is sharia law and that is it,” Waheedullah Hashimi said.
Ghani, who has been bitterly criticised by former ministers for leaving Afghanistan as Taliban forces swept into Kabul on Sunday, said he had followed the advice of government officials. He denied reports he took large sums of money with him.
‘TIME WILL TELL’
Hashimi said the role of women, including their rights to work and education and dress code, would ultimately be decided by a council of Islamic scholars.
“They will decide whether they should wear hijab, burqa, or only (a) veil plus abaya or something, or not. That is up to them,” he told Reuters.
Under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, women were prevented from working, girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out.
Many Afghans were sceptical of the Taliban promises.
“My family lived under the Taliban and maybe they really want to change or have changed, but only time will tell and it’s going to become clear very soon,” said Ferishta Karimi, who runs a tailoring shop for women.