Desperation deepened around Kabul’s airport on Saturday with evacuation operations in chaos and US President Joe Biden warning he could not predict the outcome of one of the “most difficult airlifts in history”.
Six days after the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan, the flow of people trying to flee continued to overwhelm Kabul.
Families hoping for a miracle escape crowded between the barbed-wire surrounds of an unofficial no-man’s land separating the Taliban from US troops and remnants of an Afghan special forces brigade helping them.
Reports of targeted killings in areas overrun by the Taliban have mounted, fueling fears it will return the country to the repressive rule imposed when the armed group was last in power from 1996 to 2001.
Here are the latest updates:
Some Afghans celebrate US withdrawal
At the first Friday prayers since the Taliban’s return to power, imams and guest speakers celebrated the defeat of the United States.
At one mosque in Kabul, gunmen flanked a scholar as he delivered a fiery speech in which he recounted how Afghans had beaten the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and now the United States on the battlefield.
“Afghans have once again shown collective pride,” he said.
At another mosque, the imam referenced the tragic scenes at the airport, describing those trying to flee as not having strong enough religious convictions.
“Those with weak faith are running after or hanging from American planes,” he said. “They should stay and build their country.”
US military helicopters rescue 150 stranded Americans
US military helicopters were deployed to rescue more than 150 Americans unable to reach the airport. It was the first report of US forces going beyond the airport to help people seeking evacuation.
A German civilian was also shot and wounded on his way to the airport, a government spokeswoman in Berlin said.
President Biden had set a deadline of August 31 to completely withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, but he flagged this could be extended to continue the airlifts. “We’re going to make that judgment as we go,” he said.
Footage of US Marine aiding baby captures Kabul chaos
A heart-breaking video showing a US Marine lifting a baby over a razor wire-topped wall at Kabul’s airport caught global attention amid the chaos of thousands trying to flee Afghanistan newly controlled by the Taliban.
The video shows the infant, its diaper slipping off, being pulled up by one arm high above a crowd of Afghans seeking to enter the airport. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Marines were told the unidentified baby was sick and were asked to help.
“The video you are talking about – the parent asked the Marines to look after the baby because the baby was ill,” he told reporters. “So the Marine you see reaching over the wall took it to a Norwegian hospital that is at the airport. They treated the child and returned the child to the child’s father.”
He said he did not know who the family was, or their status – whether or not they had been accepted to immigrate to the Untied States under a special programme for Afghans who worked for the Americans or were otherwise at high risk from the Taliban.
Slow Kabul evacuation aims to avert clashes with Taliban: NATO official
About 12,000 foreigners and Afghans working for embassies and international aid groups have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban entered the capital Kabul, a NATO official said.
“The evacuation process is slow, as it is risky, for we don’t want any form of clashes with Taliban members or civilians outside the airport,” said the official, who sought anonymity.
The Taliban have disowned responsibility for the disorder at the airport, besieged by thousands desperate to flee, saying the West could have had a better plan to evacuate.
At least 12 people have been killed in and around the airport since Sunday,
Bahrain says allows airport use for evacuations
The island kingdom of Bahrain says it is “allowing flights to make use of Bahrain’s transit facilities” amid the evacuations of Afghanistan.
Bahrain, in the Gulf off Saudi Arabia, is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. The announcement comes as the US faces issues with its facilities at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar filling up with those fleeing the Taliban takeover of the country.
The kingdom also said it is hoping “all parties will commit to stabilising the internal situation and to protecting the lives of civilians and the rule of law”.
Taliban vow to be accountable
The Taliban will be accountable for its actions and will investigate reports of reprisals and atrocities carried out by members, an official of the group told Reuters news agency.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added the Taliban planned to ready a new model for governing Afghanistan within the next few weeks. The new framework would not be a democracy by Western definition, but “it will protect everyone’s rights”.
“We have heard of some cases of atrocities and crimes against civilians,” the official said. “If Talibs [members] are doing these law and order problems, they will be investigated.”
What’s next for Afghanistan’s economy under Taliban rule?
Afghanistan is the world’s seventh poorest country and mostly relies on aid. Now, its economic prospects look bleaker.
The US has frozen $9.5bn of Afghanistan’s international reserves held in its central bank. And the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has suspended payment of more than $450m for Afghanistan as part of a coronavirus relief programme.
Many warn without international recognition and donations, the armed group might not be able to govern and pay salaries. Read more here.