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Taliban fire in the air to control crowd at Kabul airport

A member of Taliban (C) stands outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. REUTERS-Stringer

The Taliban fired in the air and used batons to make people line up in orderly queues outside Kabul airport on Sunday, witnesses said, a day after seven people were killed in a crush at the gates.

On Sunday, there were no major injuries as gunmen beat back the crowds and long lines of people were being formed, the witnesses said.

Britain’s defence ministry said seven Afghans were killed here in the crush around the airport on Saturday as thousands of people desperately tried to get a flight out, a week after the Islamist militant group took control of the country.

Sky News showed footage of soldiers standing on a wall on Saturday attempting to pull the injured out from the crush and spraying people with a hose to prevent them from getting dehydrated.

“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible,” the ministry said in a statement.

A NATO official said that at least 20 people have died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampedes, witnesses have said.

Panicked Afghans have tried to get on flights abroad, fearing reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law the Sunni Muslim group exercised when it was in power two decades ago.

The United States and other foreign countries including Britain have brought in several thousand troops to manage the evacuations of foreign citizens and vulnerable Afghans, but have stayed away from the outside areas of the airport.

“Our forces are maintaining strict distance from the outer areas of the Kabul airport to prevent any clashes with the Taliban,” the NATO official said.

A Taliban official said on Sunday that “we are seeking complete clarity on foreign forces’ exit plan.”

“Managing chaos outside Kabul airport is a complex task,” the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

THOUSANDS OF U.S. TROOPS

On Saturday, the United States and Germany told their citizens in Afghanistan to avoid travelling to Kabul airport, citing security risks as desperate crowds gathered.

Army Major General William Taylor told a Pentagon briefing on Saturday that 5,800 U.S. troops remain at the airport and that the facility “remains secure”. Taylor said some gates into the airport were temporarily closed and reopened over the past day to facilitate a safe influx of evacuees.

Australia ran four flights into Kabul on Saturday night, evacuating more than 300 people, including Australians, Afghan visa holders, New Zealanders, U.S. and British citizens, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said here.

Taylor said that in the past week the United States here has evacuated 17,000 people, including 2,500 Americans, from Kabul.

The Taliban swoop into power and the collapse of the Afghan army came as U.S.-led forces were withdrawing after a 20-year war that President Joe Biden sought to conclude.

Biden, who has come under heavy criticism at home and abroad for the way the war has ended, was due to speak about the situation in Afghanistan at 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT, the White House said.

On Saturday former President Donald Trump called it “the greatest foreign policy humiliation here” in U.S. history, even though his own administration negotiated the withdrawal deal last year.

TALIBAN IN POWER

Taliban leaders are trying to hammer out a new government and the Taliban’s co-founder, Mullah Baradar, has arrived in the Afghan capital for talks with other leaders.

Taliban commanders are set to meet former governors and bureaucrats in more than 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces over the next few days to ensure their safety and seek cooperation, the Taliban official said on Sunday.

Forces holding out against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan said this weekend here they have taken three districts close to the Panjshir valley where remnants of government forces and other militia groups have gathered.

The Taliban follow an ultra-hardline version of Islam. They have sought to present here a more moderate face since returning to power, saying they want peace and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

When in power from 1996 to 2001, also guided by Islamic law, the Taliban stopped women from working or going out without wearing an all-enveloping burqa and stopped girls from going to school.

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