Two reported killed as Taliban fire on crowds protesting takeover

Anti-Taliban protests and attempts to raise the Afghan flag spread on the day Afghans mark 1919 independence from British rule.

People carry the national flag at a protest held during the Afghan independence day in Kabul, Afghanistan [Stringer/Reuters]

Protests against the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan have spread to more cities, including the capital Kabul, while the armed group called on the country’s imams to urge unity at Friday prayers, the first since they seized control.

At least two people were killed on Thursday when the Taliban fired on a crowd in Asadabad in the eastern province of Kunar, witnesses told Al Jazeera.

It was unclear if the casualties resulted from Taliban firing or from a stampede.

“Hundreds of people came out on the streets,” witness Mohammed Salim told the Reuters news agency. “At first I was scared and didn’t want to go, but when I saw one of my neighbours joined in, I took out the flag I have at home.

“Several people were killed and injured in the stampede and firing by the Taliban.”

In Kabul, a crowd of men and women shouted, “Our flag, our identity”, and waved red and green national flags, a video posted on social media showed, on the day Afghanistan celebrates independence from British control in 1919.

Marchers chanted “God is greatest”. At some protests elsewhere, media reported people tearing down the white flag of the Taliban.

Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis, reporting from Kabul, said the Taliban was “shooting at people … there was a heavy volley of gunfire for about a minute straight”.

“There were people trying to climb a hill to raise the old Afghan flag and they were pushed back with this heavy volley of gunfire. I could see dust kicking up off the hill and they scrambled back down the hill again,” Bellis said.

“There’s this kind of resistance where a lot of people are upset about the republic flag being taken down in a lot of places and in its place the Taliban flag being raised.”

The Taliban urged unity before Friday prayers and called on all imams in Kabul and the provinces to persuade people not to try to leave the country.

Since seizing Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban has presented a more moderate face, saying it wants peace, will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

During their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban severely restricted women’s rights, staged public executions, and blew up ancient Buddhist statues.

Protests flared in the city of Jalalabad and a district of Paktia province, both in the east.

On Wednesday, Taliban fighters fired at protesters waving flags in Jalalabad, killing three, witnesses and media reported.

Airport chaos

Kabul has been generally calm, but 12 people have been killed in and around the airport amid chaotic scenes, a NATO and a Taliban official told Reuters. The deaths were caused either by gunshots or stampedes, according to the Taliban official.

In one incident captured on social media, a small girl was hoisted over the airport’s high perimeter wall and handed to a US soldier, showing the desperation of people trying to get out.

An Afghan national team footballer died in a fall from a US plane at Kabul airport on Monday, when crowds of people were seen trying to board a moving aircraft, Afghanistan’s Ariana News reported.

The Taliban was “keeping their word” by providing foreign powers with support in evacuating their nationals, a Taliban official said.

“We are facilitating safe exit passage not just for foreigners but also to Afghans,” the official told Reuters.

Bellis said the Taliban was “overwhelmed” with the thousands of Afghans that have gathered at the airport in an attempt to flee the country.

The Taliban has closed down the airport road, set up checkpoints and has been shooting into the air in an attempt to push people back, Bellis said.

“Now they’ve extended the perimeter [around the airport]; hopefully they can get this situation under control,” Bellis said.

“Talking to the Taliban they say: ‘Why is this falling on us to control the airport and manage all these evacuees when this is a US project and they should be communicating better themselves to make sure that people understand if they are entitled to get on these flights and if they are not.’”

A Western security official said about 8,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since Sunday.

Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Washington, DC, said it is a “massive challenge” getting 16,000 Americans as well as an unknown number of Afghans out of the country.

“A number of texts have been sent to some people including Afghan green cardholders within Kabul telling them that they have to get to the airport for their visas to be processed to be able to be evacuated … this is virtually impossible at present,” Hanna said.

Under a pact negotiated by former President Donald Trump’s administration, the United States agreed to withdraw its forces in exchange for a Taliban guarantee not to attack departing foreign forces or let Afghanistan be used for violent attacks.

Biden said US forces would remain until all Americans were evacuated, even if that meant staying past an August 31 US deadline for withdrawal.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies