Kabul, 16 August 2021 (dpa/MIA) — US forces are struggling to restore order at Kabul’s airport as they try to facilitate the evacuation of Western diplomats in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan while holding back a crush of Afghans also trying to flee the country.
The disarray at the airport means forces there will spend the bulk of the rest of Monday restoring order before departures can resume on Tuesday, said US deputy national security adviser Jon Finer, speaking to MSNBC on Monday.
More US troops are also expected to arrive on Monday and Tuesday. The goal is to have about 5,000 troops on hand to help hundreds of Western diplomats and other workers leave the country now that the US-backed government there has effectively collapsed.
But that job will be complicated by the hundreds of Afghans who have gathered at the airport and are rushing any departing flight, desperate to escape the country before the Taliban assert full control.
The Taliban ruled the bulk of Afghanistan for about five years at the end of the 20th century. During that time, they enforced a strictly Islamist society, which meant most women were banned from public life and men could be punished for not displaying enough piety. Perceived vices, such as alcohol and Western music, were banned.
Although the Taliban have said they will not be as strict this time, few believe them and are not willing to take their chances under a renewed Taliban regime.
While some Western governments have vowed to try to bring home interpreters and other Afghan locals who have helped them, it is not clear if there is enough time or space to get them all out. Furthermore, many people at the airport have no papers, so it’s impossible to tell most people’s status.
There have been reports of deaths and shooting as US troops seek to maintain order. According to unsubstantiated reports, some people have hidden in wheel wells and fallen to their deaths at takeoff. One Afghan soldier reported forcing his way onto a plane with other Afghans and ending up in Doha, with no identification or plan.
Kabul’s collapse on Sunday signaled the end of a 20-year-long nation-building exercise led by the US with support of NATO allies.
The US kicked the Taliban out of Kabul in 2001, because the Taliban had provided shelter to the al-Qaeda operatives who planned and took part in hijacking the airplanes that were used to bomb the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington on Sept. 11 of that year.
Former US president Donald Trump’s administration agreed to withdraw in exchange for the Taliban making peace with the Afghan government, and the current president, Joe Biden, stuck to the plan, aside from delaying it a few months.
However, as foreign troops began leaving, Taliban troops began their push. Afghan forces gave up multiple key cities without a fight and Western forces are now leaving as fast as they can.
On Monday, residents reported that Taliban representatives were taking over police stations and offices across Kabul, often travelling in official vehicles. There were also new checkpoints in the city, residents reported.
There were reports out of the Health Ministry that representatives had met officials from the Taliban Health Ministry. The sides thanked each other for their work, at which point the Taliban’s likely health appointee called on all health officials — men and women — to resume their work around the country.
Representatives of the collapsed Afghan government and the Taliban are holding talks, said a spokesperson for former Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
“The talks are ongoing. In the first stage, it has been emphasized that the life and property of the people and public properties must be protected,” Yousuf Saha told dpa.
No Taliban comment was available.
The images of a government supported by Washington collapsing so completely has turned into a diplomatic fiasco for Washington and opened up the Biden administration for criticism, including from Trump.
“He surrendered to the Taliban, who has [sic] quickly overtaken Afghanistan and destroyed confidence in American power and influence,” read a statement from the former president. “The outcome in Afghanistan, including the withdrawal, would have been totally different if the Trump Administration had been in charge.”
But the Biden White House has pointed out multiple times that Trump laid the groundwork for the current situation in Afghanistan by cutting a deal with the Taliban, which Trump and most of his allies deny. However, one of Trump’s former national security advisers, John Bolton, told broadcaster NPR that the outcome would have probably been the same if Trump were president.
Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Sweden and Germany were among the nations trying to get people out on Monday.
Getting staff out of Kabul was already challenging, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told the Norwegian news agency NTB, but tracking down troops still in the field was even harder as the mobile phone network showed signs of breaking down.