At least eight people were killed at Kabul airport on Monday, including two who were shot dead by US troops, three who were run over by taxiing jets and three stowaways who fell from the engines of a US Air Force plane as it fled an airfield of thousands of desperate Afghan nationals.
The Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan and are going door to door in Kabul looking for enemies to kill despite promising the international community they wouldn’t breach human rights because they wanted to be formally recognized.
At Hamid Karzai International Airport, there was a stampede of thousands of people – both stranded foreign nationals and Afghan civilians – desperately trying to escape.
The airport is the last place in the city that is being guarded by NATO troops. Thousands of Afghan nationals have rushed there in the hopes of being saved along with the foreigners being flown out, but the chaotic rescue operation collapsed on Monday as troops struggled to control the crowds.
General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr, the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, met with Taliban representatives in Qatar on Sunday and convinced them to let the US evacuate its citizens and any interpreters and translators it plans to without interference.
It remains unclear how NATO troops will organize the evacuation of Afghan refugees or even get themselves out given the diabolical situation that unfolded on Monday.
There are believed to be 2,500 US troops at the airport with another 3,500 on the way but it’s unclear how many American civilians are there, and how many Afghan translators and interpreters are to be flown out.
President Joe Biden – whose days-long silence on the chaos has been deafening – will return to the White House from Camp David on Monday to address the nation at 3.45pm. He has been blamed for the fast-escalating catastrophe in Afghanistan after declaring in April that all US troops would leave the region by September.
The harrowing scene at the airport on Monday included thousands rushing on to the runway as a US Air Force C-17 cargo jet took off with US citizens on board.
Frantic Afghan nationals jumped onto the plane’s fuselage in the hope that it would carry them to safety. Shortly after it took off, three were filmed falling from the aircraft to their deaths. Three were run over by the jet’s wheels on the tarmac.
American troops halted evacuation flights for 90 minutes afterwards while they cleared the airfield, which had become overrun with thousands of Afghan nationals. They used apache helicopters and fired warning shots into the crowds to try to control them.
Outside the walls of the airport, shots from Taliban fighters rang out.
Afghanistan’s representative to the UN’s security council Ghulam M. Isaczai said ‘there are already reports of target killings and looting in the city,’ at a meeting of the council on Monday.
‘Kabul residents are reported that the Taliban have already started house-to-house searches in some neighborhoods, registering names and looking for people in their target list,’ he added.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was ‘particularly concerned’ by accounts of human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan who fear a return to the darkest days’ in the 1990s when the Taliban ruled and barred girls for getting an education and imposed draconian measures on women.
It’s unclear now who America will save from the chaos aside from US citizens and anyone who worked alongside them.
Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan did a series of TV interviews on Monday where he said evacuation flights were ongoing, but he skirted criticism for the disaster and said: ‘When push came to shove, [the Afghan forces] decided not to step up and fight for their country.’
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also come under fire for hightailing out of the country last night, in a helicopter full of cash, according to the Russian embassy. His whereabouts remain unknown.
The Taliban declared victory from the presidential palace on Sunday following a blistering advance across the country. Experts and lawmakers have for months warned the Biden administrations that this was exactly what would happen if they continued with the hasty retreat and entrusted the country to the Afghan National Army.
One of the terror chieftains proclaimed from the palace, ‘Praise God, I was in Guantanamo for eight years’, as he sat at the president’s table surrounded by henchmen strapped with AK-47s.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the U.S. decision to withdraw had ‘accelerated’ the crisis that risked creating ‘a breeding ground for terror.’
However, the Taliban has been on a charm offensive, pledging that no harm will come to any foreign citizens or embassy staff as it seeks formal recognition from the international community.
Almost all major checkpoints in Kabul were under Taliban control by Monday morning and 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.
Taliban officials said everyone would be allowed to return home from Kabul airport if they decide to stay in the country and promised civilians would not be harmed. The group previously said westerners would be allowed to leave the country but that Afghans would be barred from departing.
US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded. Early Monday morning, flight-tracking data showed no immediate commercial flights over the country.
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.
They raced to Kabul’s international airport, where the ‘civilian side’ was closed until further notice, according to Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority. The military was put in control of the airspace.
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.
Shafi Arifi, who had a ticket to travel to Uzbekistan on Sunday, was unable to board her plane because it was packed with people who had raced across the tarmac and climbed aboard, with no police or airport staff in sight.
‘There was no room for us to stand,’ said the 24-year-old. ‘Children were crying, women were shouting, young and old men were so angry and upset, no one could hear each other. There was no oxygen to breathe.’
After another woman fainted and was carried off the plane, Arifi gave up and went back home.
Meanwhile, refugees have been massing at the borders as people desperately try to flee Afghanistan before the Taliban’s brutal rules are implemented, with pictures from the country’s border with Pakistan showing hundreds of people queuing in an attempt to leave.
‘Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen. They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years,’ Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV. ‘Thanks to God, the war is over in the country.’
President Ghani fled the country on Sunday night as the insurgents encircled the capital – saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed – capping a military victory that saw them capture all cities in just 10 days.
In a Facebook post, Ghani said he had left the country to avoid clashes with the Taliban that would endanger millions of Kabul residents. Some social media users branded Ghani, who did not disclose his location, a coward for leaving them in chaos. Al Jazeera reported he had flown to Uzbekistan, citing his personal bodyguard.
‘The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,’ Ghani said after fleeing.
Taliban officials said they had received no reports of any clashes anywhere in the country: ‘The situation is peaceful,’ one official said. The Taliban controlled 90 percent of state buildings and fighters had been told to prevent any damage, the official added.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who fought in the Soviet-Afghan War during the 1980s and helped ex-chief Mohammad Omar create the Taliban in 1994, has already been installed as the head of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, according to reports in the Arab world.
Video from Afghanistan’s parliament building showed Taliban fighters entering the main chamber today. The grainy footage showed fighters carrying weapons sitting at a table at the head of the chamber under the government’s seal, with some smiling and posing for photographs.
Ghani fled from the country on Sunday as the Islamists entered Kabul virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed.
Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said in a message on Twitter their fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone.
‘Life, property and honour of none shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen,’ he said.
Earlier, Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV, the Afghan people and the Taliban had witnessed the fruits of their efforts and sacrifices over 20 years.
‘Thanks to God, the war is over,’ he said.
It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of the country after a lightning sweep that ended in Kabul as government forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others at a cost of billions of dollars, melted away.
Al Jazeera broadcast footage of what it said were Taliban commanders in the presidential palace with dozens of armed fighters.
Naeem said the form of the new regime in Afghanistan would be made clear soon, adding the Taliban did not want to live in isolation and calling for peaceful international relations.
The militants sought to project a more moderate face, promising to respect women’s rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans.
Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices in their imposition of sharia religious law. During their rule, women could not work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.
Both the United Nations and the United States said last week they had received reports that Taliban fighters were executing surrendering government soldiers.
Taliban officials said they had received no reports of any clashes anywhere in the country: ‘The situation is peaceful,’ one said, adding the Taliban controlled 90% of state buildings and fighters had been told to prevent any damage.
Central Kabul streets were largely deserted early on a sunny Monday as waking residents pondered their future.
‘I’m in a complete state of shock,’ said Sherzad Karim Stanekzai, who spent the night in his carpet shop to guard it. ‘I know there will be no foreigners, no international people who will now come to Kabul.’
People thronged to the airport from late on Sunday with hundreds wandering on the runways in the dark, pulling luggage and jostling for a place on one of the last commercial flights to leave before U.S. forces took over air traffic control.
Dozens of men tried to clamber onto an overhead departure gangway to board a plane while hundreds of others milled about, a video posted on social media showed.
U.S. forces gave up their big military base at Bagram, some 60 km north of Kabul, several weeks ago, leaving Kabul’s airport their only way out, to the anger of many Afghans.
‘The Americans have no right to hold the airport for their own use, they could have used their own base to take people out,’ said one person trying to leave.
There was the prospect of chaos in the skies over Afghanistan too. Its civil aviation authority advised transit aircraft to reroute saying its airspace was uncontrolled.
The Pentagon on Sunday authorized another 1,000 troops to help evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghans who worked for them, expanding its security presence on the ground to almost 6,000 troops within the next 48 hours.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said early on Monday that all embassy personnel, including Ambassador Ross Wilson, had been transferred to Kabul airport, mostly by helicopter, to await evacuation and the American flag had been lowered and removed from the embassy compound.
How did the Taliban take over Afghanistan so quickly?
The Taliban’s stunning and rapid takeover of Afghanistan was the result not only of their battlefield strength, but also a sustained push to force surrenders and cut deals.
The insurgents mixed threats and lures with propaganda and psychological warfare as they took city after city – some with barely a shot fired – eventually capturing the capital Kabul.
How did this happen? Why didn’t the Afghan army put up a fight?
As foreign troops began their final withdrawal in May, Washington and Kabul were confident the Afghan military would put up a strong fight against the Taliban.
With more than 300,000 personnel and multi-billion-dollar equipment more advanced than the Taliban arsenal, Afghan forces were formidable – on paper.
In reality, they were plagued by corruption, poor leadership, lack of training and plummeting morale for years. Desertions were common and US government inspectors had long warned that the force was unsustainable.
Afghan forces put up strong resistance this summer in some areas such as Lashkar Gah in the south, but they now faced the Taliban without regular US air strikes and military support.
Faced with the smaller but highly motivated and cohesive enemy, many soldiers and even entire units simply deserted or surrendered, leaving the insurgents to capture city after city.
How did the Taliban take advantage of low morale?
The seeds for the collapse were sown last year when Washington signed a deal with the insurgents to withdraw its troops completely.
For the Taliban, it was the beginning of their victory after nearly two decades of war. For many demoralised Afghans, it was betrayal and abandonment.
They continued to attack government forces but started to combine those with targeted killings of journalists and rights activists, ramping up an environment of fear.
They also pushed a narrative of inevitable Taliban victory in their propaganda and psychological operations.
Soldiers and local officials were reportedly bombarded with text messages in some areas, urging them to surrender or cooperate with the Taliban to avoid a worse fate.
Many were offered safe passage if they did not put up a fight, while others were reached through tribal and village elders.
What happened to the anti-Taliban warlords and their militias?
With Afghan forces unable to hold off the Taliban advances, many of Afghanistan’s famed – and notorious – warlords rallied their militias and promised a black eye to the Taliban if they attacked their cities.
But with confidence plunging in the ability of Afghanistan’s government to survive, never mind hold off the insurgents, the writing was also on the wall for the warlords.
Their cities fell without a fight. Warlord Ismail Khan in the western city of Herat was captured by the Taliban as it fell.
Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor in the north fled to Uzbekistan, as their militia members abandoned humvees, weapons and even their uniforms on the road out of Mazar-i-Sharif.
But how were the Taliban able to do this so quickly?
The Taliban had started putting deals and surrender arrangements in place reportedly long before the launch of their blitz in May.
From individual soldiers and low-level government officials to apparently provincial governors and ministers, the insurgents pressed for deals – with the Taliban all but victorious, why put up a fight?
The strategy proved immensely effective.
The images from their final march to Kabul were not of bodies in the streets and bloody battlefields, but of Taliban and government officials sitting comfortably on couches as they formalised the handover of cities and provinces.
According to one reported US estimate less than a month before the fall of Kabul, the Afghan government could collapse in 90 days.
But once the Taliban captured their first provincial capital, it took less than two weeks. – Reporting by AFP
Western nations, including France, Germany and New Zealand said they were working to get citizens as well as some Afghan employees out.
In a Facebook post, Ghani said he had left the country to avoid clashes with the Taliban that would endanger millions of Kabul residents. Some social media users branded Ghani, who did not disclose his location, a coward for leaving them in chaos.
In Washington, opponents of President Joe Biden’s decision to end America’s longest war, launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said the chaos was caused by a failure of leadership.
Biden has faced rising domestic criticism after sticking to a plan, initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, to end the U.S. military mission by Aug. 31.
Britain’s defence minister said British and NATO forces would not be returning to fight the Taliban.
‘That’s not on the cards,’ Ben Wallace told Sky News. – dailymail