Taliban keep some evacuees from reaching Kabul airport, as US vows to finish airlift

People carry Afghan flags as they take part in an anti-Taliban protest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan August 18, 2021 in this screen grab taken from a video. Pajhwok Afghan News/Handout via REUTERS
  • Thousands of Afghans still trying to escape the country
  • Taliban vow no retribution against soldiers, contractors
  • U.S. urges Taliban to allow departure of those wanting to leave

Armed members of the Taliban kept people desperate to flee Afghanistan from reaching the airport in Kabul, 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.

“Everyone wants out,” said a member of an Afghan family after it arrived in Germany. “Every day is worse than the day before. We saved ourselves but we couldn’t rescue our families.”

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.”

(For a graphic on the airport chaos, click on: https://tmsnrt.rs/3stVpcj)

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.

The president, who has faced criticism about the U.S. departure, said chaos was inevitable. Asked in an interview with ABC News if the exit of U.S. troops could have been handled better, Biden said: “No. … The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens.”

U.S. officials have told the Taliban “that we expect them to allow all American citizens, all third-country nationals, and all Afghans who wish to leave to do so safely and without harassment,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters in Washington.

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.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said security at the Kabul airport was stable and the Taliban were not interfering with U.S. military operations.

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.

About 5,000 diplomats, security staff, aid workers and Afghans have been evacuated from Kabul in the past 24 hours and military flights will continue around the clock, a Western official told Reuters.