Kabul: On Saturday, the Taliban deployed additional troops around the Kabul airport to prevent large crowds from gathering after a devastating suicide attack two days ago, as the US-led mass airlift ended before the August 31 deadline .
New checkpoints appeared on the road to the airport. Some of these checkpoints were operated by Taliban armed men in uniform, driving hummers and night vision goggles seized from the Afghan security forces. In the past two weeks, large numbers of people gathered in the area where the Taliban wanted to flee the country after the Taliban took over, which was basically empty.
A suicide attack on Thursday by an Islamic State affiliate killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, and there are concerns that the group, which is far more radical than the Taliban, could strike again. The U.S. military said it killed an IS militant early Saturday in a drone strike, after U.S. President Joe Biden had promised swift retaliation.
Many Western nations have already completed their evacuation operations ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces.
An Afghan who had worked as a translator for the U.S. military said he was with a group of people with permission to leave who tried to reach the airport late Friday. After passing through three checkpoints they were stopped at a fourth. An argument ensued, and the Taliban said they had been told by the Americans to only let U.S. passport-holders through.
“I am so hopeless for my future,” the man told The Associated Press after returning to Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. “If the evacuation is over, what will happen to us?”
According to a video circulated online that is consistent with the Associated Press report, on Saturday, the Taliban fired warning shots on the road leading to the airport and sprayed a certain color of smoke on the road leading to the airport, causing dozens of people to disperse. .
According to the United States, since the Taliban took over, more than 110,000 people have been safely evacuated through Kabul Airport, of which approximately 6,800 have been evacuated in the past 24 hours. But thousands more are working hard to leave and may not be able to leave before Tuesday.
In Kabul itself, hundreds of protesters, including many civil servants, gathered outside a bank, and countless people lined up in front of a cash machine. The protesters stated that they had not been paid in the past three to six months and were unable to withdraw cash. The ATM is still operating, but the withdrawal limit is around $200 every 24 hours.
Later on Saturday, the Central Bank ordered the opening of commercial bank branches, distributing up to $200 a day to customers, saying this was a temporary measure.
The Taliban’s takeover of the previous economic crisis earlier this month may have influence on Western countries as they urge the new Afghan ruler to form a moderate and inclusive government and allow people to leave after Tuesday.
Afghanistan relies heavily on international aid, accounting for about 75% of the government budget backed by the toppled West. The Taliban have stated that they hope to maintain good relations with the international community and have promised to adopt a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they were in power last time, but many Afghans are deeply skeptical.
The Taliban can barely use the central bank’s US$9 billion reserves, most of which are held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The International Monetary Fund also suspended transfers of approximately US$450 million. Without a regular supply of U.S. dollars, the local currency is at risk of collapse, which may cause the prices of basic commodities to soar.
At the same time, a UN agency warned that a worsening drought threatened the livelihoods of more than 7 million people. The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization says that Afghans are also suffering from displacement due to the coronavirus pandemic and recent fighting.
Earlier this month, the United Nations World Food Program estimated that about 14 million people — about one-third of Afghans — are in desperate need of food assistance.
FAO stated that critical help is needed before the winter wheat planting season that will begin in a month in many regions. The agency said that so far, funds have only been used to assist 110,000 farmer families, while about 1.5 million families need help, adding that the current harvest is expected to be 20% lower than last year.
Biden has stated that he will abide by the August 31 deadline set by himself to withdraw all U.S. troops. The Taliban, which controls almost the entire country outside the Kabul Airport, refused any extension.
Italy stated that its final evacuation flight has landed in Rome, but will cooperate with the United Nations and Afghanistan’s border countries to continue to help Afghans working with its military contingent to leave the country.
“Our imperative must be to not abandon the Afghan people,” especially women and children, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Saturday. He said 4,890 Afghans were evacuated by Italy’s air force on 87 flights, but did not say how many others were still eligible.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said the final U.K. evacuation flight for Afghan nationals left Kabul. Further flights over the weekend will bring home British troops and diplomats, though they may also carry some remaining U.K. or Afghan civilians.
The Taliban have encouraged Afghans to stay in the country, pledging amnesty even to those who fought against them. They have said commercial flights will resume after the U.S. withdrawal, but it’s unclear if airlines will be willing to offer service.
The United States and its allies have stated that they will continue to provide humanitarian assistance through the United Nations and other partners, but any broader involvement—including development assistance—may depend on whether the Taliban fulfills their promise of more moderate rule.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan for the last time, from 1996 to 2001 during the US-led invasion, they gave a harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Women are basically confined at home, television and music are banned, and suspects are maimed or executed in public.
This time, the Taliban said that women will be allowed to go to school and work. They have been negotiating with senior Afghan officials in the previous government and said they want an “inclusive Islamic government.”
But even if the top leadership of the organization adopted a more moderate tone, there are still reports of human rights violations in areas controlled by the Taliban. It is not clear whether the fighters are acting under order or acting alone.
Earlier this week, Taliban fighters assaulted a photographer of the private broadcaster Tolo TV in Kabul. Saad Mohseni, the group chief executive who owns the channel, said that the Taliban have been in contact with the radio’s management on the matter. He said that the fighter has been identified, but it is unclear whether he faces any disciplinary action. The Taliban did not comment.