Urgency to evacuate Afghans builds as deadline nears

Taliban say there will be no extra time to continue evacuations


AFP August 24, 2021
Families begin to board a US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL:

Efforts to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan became increasingly urgent on Tuesday, with Spain warning it would have to leave people behind and France saying it had just three days to complete its airlifts.

US-led troops have ramped up operations to get thousands of people out of Kabul, after the Taliban warned they would not allow the United States to extend next week's deadline for a complete withdrawal.

President Joe Biden has said he hopes to stick to the August 31 deadline he set to pull out American forces, but he is facing pressure from European allies and Britain to go beyond the date.

The French government said Tuesday, if the United States stuck to the deadline, it would have to end evacuations from Kabul's airport on Thursday.

Taliban fighters in a vehicle patrol the streets of Kabul. The Taliban have enforced some sense of calm in a city long marred by violent crime, with their armed forces patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints. PHOTO: AFP

Taliban fighters in a vehicle patrol the streets of Kabul. The Taliban have enforced some sense of calm in a city long marred by violent crime, with their armed forces patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints. PHOTO: AFP

Spain said it would not be able to rescue all Afghans who served Spanish missions.

"It is a very frustrating situation for everyone, because even those who reach Kabul, access to the airport is very complicated," Defence Minister Margarita Robles said.

Britain has said it will lobby at a virtual G7 summit on Tuesday for a longer presence.

About 50,000 foreigners and Afghans have fled the country from Kabul's airport since the Taliban swept into power 10 days ago, according to the US government.

Many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal interpretation Islamic law that the Taliban implemented when first in power from 1996-2001, or retribution for working with the US-backed government over the past two decades.

The Taliban, who ended two decades of war with an astonishingly swift rout of government forces, had been publicly tolerant of the evacuation effort.

But on Monday they described next week's cut-off date as a "red line".

Read As Kabul turmoil mounts, Taliban's PR offensive falters

"If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations -- the answer is no... there would be consequences," spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News.

The Taliban achieved their stunning victory thanks to Biden pulling out nearly all American troops from Afghanistan, following through on a deal struck with the Taliban by then-president Donald Trump.

However, Biden was forced to redeploy thousands of troops after the fall of Kabul to oversee the airlift.

The rush to leave Kabul has sparked harrowing scenes and left at least eight people dead.

Some of them have been crushed to death and at least one, a youth football player, died after falling off a plane.

The German defence ministry said Monday an Afghan soldier was killed and three others wounded in a firefight with unknown assailants.

Robles, the Spanish defence minister, said the security situation was getting worse.

"The Taliban are becoming more aggressive, there is gunfire, violence is more obvious," she said in an interview with news radio Cadena Ser.

"The situation is frankly dramatic and besides, with each passing day, it is worse because people are conscious that time is running out."

The Taliban are currently working on forming a government, but two sources within the movement told AFP there would be no announcement on a cabinet until the last US soldier has left Afghanistan.

The Taliban have repeatedly claimed to be different from their 1990s incarnation, and have declared an amnesty for government forces and officials.

In the capital and other cities, the former insurgents have enforced some sense of calm, with their fighters patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints.

The Taliban are also intent on quashing the last notable Afghan military resistance to their rule, made up of ex-government forces in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital.

The Panjshir has long been known as an anti-Taliban bastion.

One of the leaders of the movement, named the National Resistance Front, is the son of famed anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Another is Amrullah Saleh, a vice president and head of intelligence in the fallen government.

The Taliban have said they have massed forces outside the valley, but would prefer a negotiated end to the stand off.

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