Kabul evacuations resume after hours-long delay

US President Biden thanks Qatar saying airlifts ‘would not have been possible without the early support’ from Sheikh Tamim.

A US Marine escorts evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, August 20, 2021 [Cpl. Davis Harris/US Marine Corps via AP Photo]
A US Marine escorts evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, August 20, 2021 [Cpl. Davis Harris/US Marine Corps via AP Photo]

Evacuation flights from Kabul airport have restarted after a brief pause of several hours due to overcrowding at a staging base in Qatar, the Pentagon said on Friday.

President Joe Biden has said he could not guarantee the outcome of the emergency evacuation from Kabul’s airport, calling it one of the most “difficult” airlift operations ever.

“This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history,” Biden said in a televised address from the White House on Friday. “I cannot promise what the final outcome will be.”

The president said United States forces have airlifted 13,000 people out of Afghanistan since August 14, and 18,000 since July.

Shabia Mantoo, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has welcomed the evacuation of Afghan nationals through such separate bilateral programmes, but stressed that they should not substitute for an “urgent and wider international humanitarian response”.

“The vast majority of Afghans are not able to leave the country through regular channels,” she told a Geneva news briefing. “As of today, those who may be in danger have no clear way out.”

A UN threat assessment report says Taliban fighters are conducting “targeted door-to-door visits” of people who worked with the US and NATO forces, increasing the fear of revenge.

Here are the latest updates:

Taliban promises to unveil new Afghan government framework within weeks

The Taliban aim to unveil a new governing framework for Afghanistan in the next few weeks, a spokesman for the Islamist movement said on Saturday, after the armed group’s swift takeover of the South Asian nation.

“Legal, religious and foreign policy experts in the Taliban aim to present the new governing framework in the next few weeks,” the official told the Reuters news agency.

The Taliban have sought to present a more moderate face since last week’s lightning takeover. It ruled over Afghanistan with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001 before being toppled by US-led forces for sheltering the al-Qaeda group behind the September 11 attacks.

Biden thanks Qatar’s emir for help in Afghanistan – White House

US President Joe Biden thanked Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in a call for the country’s “generous support” as Washington evacuates thousands of people from Afghanistan, the White House said on Friday.

Biden said the airlifts “would not have been possible without the early support from Qatar,” the White House said.

Qatar is stepping up while West is overwhelmed, says French MP

French lawmaker Sebastien Nadot, who chairs a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the living conditions of migrants and refugees, said Qatar is stepping up in the effort to evacuate Afghan civilians while the West is “overwhelmed”.

“To sum up: the USA, Westerners, UK, France are totally overwhelmed by the scale of the damage in Afghanistan,” Nadot wrote on Twitter. “Qatar is assuming as much as possible, humanitarian aid, NGOs, journalists, refugees.”

His tweet was in response to a report that the New York Times and other media outlets worked with Qatar to evacuate their employees from Afghanistan.

US president and Qatari emir stress need for peaceful power transfer

US President Joe Biden and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani stressed the need for protecting civilians and a peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan during a phone call on Friday, the Emiri Diwan in Doha said in a statement.

The two leaders also called for a “comprehensive political agreement” that would ensure the country’s stability and security.

“The American president also expressed gratitude to his highness for Qatar’s contributions to the operation to evacuate civilians and its efforts in the peace process in Afghanistan,” the statement added.


Pentagon: Evacuation delay in Kabul caused by crowding at US base in Qatar

Pentagon officials said a delay in evacuation flights leaving Kabul’s airport earlier was the result of crowding at the US airbase in Qatar where people were being held temporarily before being moved to other US bases.

“The sites at Qatar were just at capacity there was just no room to flow in additional people,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters in a media briefing. The flight delay out of Kabul “lasted about six to seven hours and it was allowed to ensure that flights at our intermediate staging bases could receive more personnel”, US Army Maj General Hank Taylor said.

“And that has been cleaned up as flights have departed there. It has allowed us now to continue with those that are ready to fly out of Kabul,” he said.


Hundreds of people evacuated by Qatar: assistant foreign minister

Qatar has evacuated more than 300 people from Afghanistan, Assistant Foreign Minister and Spokesperson Lolwah Alkhater said on Twitter.

“In the past 72 hours we evacuated over 300 mostly female students & over 200 media personnel,” she added.

 

UAE to host 5,000 Afghans: Embassy

The United Arab Emirates has agreed to host 5,000 Afghan nationals evacuated from their country on their way to third countries, the UAE’s embassy in the United States said on Twitter.

The evacuees will travel from Kabul to the Gulf nation on a US aircraft in the coming days, the embassy said.


Refugee group: 32 Afghans trapped between Poland and Belarus

A Polish refugee rights group has said that 32 people who fled Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover have been trapped for 12 days in an area between Poland and Belarus, caught in a standoff between the two neighbours.

The group, Fundacja Ocalenie, called on Polish authorities to allow people to apply for refugee status in Poland, saying they have the right to do so. Polish authorities are refusing to let them in, and Belarusian border guards will not let them return.

“In accordance with the law … each of these people should be allowed to submit an application for protection,” Piotr Bystrianin, the president of the group’s management board, said in a statement.

Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia accuse Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of sending refugees across their borders with his country in what they have called an act of ‘hybrid war’ [File: Janis Laizans/Reuters]

Biden vows to evacuate Americans and US allies

President Joe Biden has pledged to ensure the safe evacuation of American citizens and US allies from Afghanistan, lauding the ongoing US operation at the Kabul airport.

“We’re going to do everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States,” Biden said.

He pledged to bring back to the US “any American who wants to come home.”

“I cannot promise what the final outcome will be… but as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilise every resource necessary.”


Kabul evacuation among ‘most difficult airlifts’: Biden

US President Joe Biden has described the Kabul evacuation as the “largest, most difficult airlifts in history”.

“And the only country in the world projecting this much power, on the far side of the world, with this degree of precision is United States of America,” he said in remarks from the White House, flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Biden said more than 18,000 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan so far, with more than 6,000 US soldiers on the ground.


Rights groups urge Biden to push back Kabul pullout deadline

Two top human rights organisations called for Joe Biden to extend the August 31 deadline for US troops to leave Kabul to help evacuate Afghans fearing Taliban reprisals.

Sarah Holewinski, head of the Washington bureau at Human Rights Watch, told a news conference the most at-risk Afghans would not be able to get out before the deadline unless flights out of Kabul are ramped up.

“We hope President Biden will announce a delayed departure for US forces so that more at-risk Afghans [can] be evacuated,” Holewinski said.

Speaking from an undisclosed location, Shaharzad Akbar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said Afghans feared being abandoned by Washington.

“The fear is that as soon as the foreign, the Western citizens are evacuated … the airport airfield will be left to the Taliban and people will be left at the mercy of the Taliban,” Akbar said. “And there will be a massacre.”

Taliban fighters stand along the roadside in Ghazni [AFP]

Taliban not stopping people leaving Kabul, official says

The Taliban is not stopping people leaving the country at Kabul airport, a group official said on Friday.
“We are only pushing [away] those who have no legal papers to travel, but who are adding to the chaos at Kabul airport gate,” he told Reuters news agency.

Foreign powers sought to hasten evacuations from Afghanistan on Friday after reports of Taliban reprisals, including against people who had worked with the US-led forces or the previous Western-backed government.


US evacuation flights paused for past eight hours: CNN

US evacuation flights out of Kabul have been paused for the past eight hours with Washington struggling to find destinations to temporarily host Afghan evacuees, CNN reported.

Clarissa Ward, the network’s correspondent in the Afghan capital, described scenes of chaos and desperation at the airport, including incidents of mothers throwing their children over barbed wires to US soldiers to get them to safety.

“It is just a picture of desperation, of failure as well – failure to protect our allies, failure to plan for this eventuality,” the CNN correspondent said describing what she witnessed at the airport compound.


EXCLUSIVE: ‘Huge task’ remains at Kabul airport to carry out evacuations: NATO

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has told Al Jazeera a “huge task” remains to help evacuate people at Kabul airport amid the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

“We have been able to evacuate thousands of people over the last two days, and the situation at the airport is much better now than it was in the beginning of the week, but we really recognise that it’s a huge task,” he said from Brussels, Belgium.

Stoltenberg said NATO had “communicated clearly” to the Taliban that the group should provide a safe passage for those who want to leave the country – especially to the airport.

“Some NATO allies, and especially the US, have had operational tactical contacts with the Taliban to make sure that happens. We have seen some progress but still, it is a very difficult situation outside the airport, it’s very unpredictable.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg [Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via Reuters]

Gunshots continue at Kabul airport: Al Jazeera correspondent

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Kabul, said gunshots were still being heard coming from the airport.

“It still remains very chaotic, very volatile. There are still lots of people thronging around the airport perimeter, wanting to get inside,” he said.

“At times the Taliban will force people away from the terminal – they’ve issued an order that people shouldn’t be there and should just go home.”


Uzbekistan sends 150 Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan: TASS

The foreign ministry of Uzbekistan has sent 150 Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan as per an agreement with the Taliban, Russian news agency TASS reported citing the ministry.

The refugees had been given security guarantees, the ministry was quoted as saying.


PODCAST: What can we expect from Taliban 2.0?

After two decades, Taliban rule is starting to look like the new normal in Afghanistan again. It is a reality that has tens of thousands of Afghans running for their lives. But the new leadership is assuring Afghans that they are safe in Afghanistan. Will this be a softer, gentler version Taliban rule? Or are the end of women’s rights and public executions ahead?

To find out, we talk to one of our correspondents who has followed the Taliban for 20 years and watched them enter the room where deals were signed.


Desperation grows at Kabul airport amid reports of Taliban reprisals

There was a growing sense of desperation at Kabul airport on Friday as people crowded to the civilian and military parts of the facility to escape the country following the takeover of the Taliban before Western forces depart.

Meanwhile, a report compiled for the United Nations warned that the Taliban is conducting targeted searches for supposed collaborators with the former regime.

Hundreds of people were crowding around the civilian entrance to the airport, located at a large roundabout, trying to enter the compound, witnesses told the dpa news agency.

A baby is handed over to the American army over the perimeter wall of the airport for it to be evacuated, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 19, 2021 [Omar Haidari via Reuters]

Afghan ex-US army translator trapped in Kabul growing increasingly desperate

A former translator for the US army in Afghanistan told Al Jazeera she is growing desperate as she has tried and failed three times to escape from Kabul airport.

She said even if it was possible to reach the airport past Taliban roadblocks, the airport was chaotic and crowded – with no system in place to deal with those most at risk who have the correct documentation to leave.

“I had all my documents … everything was completed and I was expecting that they would do the evacuation in an orderly way,” she said. “I never expected it to be this disrespectful for us – for their Afghan allies,” she said, speaking under condition of anonymity.”

“Right now the airport is blocked [by the Taliban], you cannot go to a third country right now … They [the US] should sort this system out, and they should have all the embassy numbers, the case numbers for the applicants – and they should call us.”


5,800 American soldiers in Kabul to help with evacuations: Official

There are currently about 5,800 US soldiers at Kabul airport to assist with evacuation efforts, a US official said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered about 6,000 soldiers to Kabul, a number expected to be reached in the coming days.


‘Dialogue and communication’ way out of Afghan refugee crisis: China

China believes the “fundamental way” out of the refugee crisis in Afghanistan is to press ahead with “dialogue and communication” between factions concerned.

At a daily news briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying called for concerted international efforts to promote talks and to prevent further war and casualties in Afghanistan, while giving no indication whether Beijing would help with evacuations.


Troops fire in air to control crowds at Kabul airport

Afghan soldiers fired in the air and pushed crowds gathered at the entrance of Kabul airport away as desperate Afghans tried to leave the country in the wake of the last week’s stunning Taliban takeover.

Videos posted on social media showed Afghan soldiers firing over people’s heads as American troops lined up in front of a gate.

Frustration was building at the airport as lines of US troops formed a barrier to crowds wishing to get onto the runway.

On Friday, the US was struggling to pick up the pace of American and Afghan evacuations at the airport, constrained by obstacles ranging from armed Taliban checkpoints to paperwork problems.

US soldiers stand guard as Afghan people wait to board a US military aircraft to leave Afghanistan, at the military airport in Kabul on August 19, 2021 [Shakib Rahmani/AFP]

Biden to address on Afghanistan evacuations

US President Joe Biden is set to make an address on the US evacuation effort in Afghanistan amid criticism from refugee advocates and members of his party the effort has been too slow.

However, US officials told The Associated Press news agency that American diplomats had formally urged weeks ago that the Biden administration ramp up evacuation efforts. Tens of thousands of people are waiting to be evacuated before the US’s August 31 deadline to withdraw from the country.


Under fire UK foreign minister defends missed Afghan call

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has defied demands to quit after failing to make a telephone call to help translators fleeing Afghanistan, saying the Taliban’s rapid advance made contact impossible.

Raab was on holiday in Crete when his office was advised to call his Afghan counterpart to urge him to help evacuate local translators who had helped British forces. But the call was never made, leading to demands that Raab quit and accusations that Britain had abandoned the translators.

Raab defended his actions, hitting out at media reports as “inaccurate”. The call was delegated to a junior minister as he was “prioritising security and capacity” at Kabul airport, on the advice of those overseeing the crisis response.


Evacuees stage before boarding a US C-17 Globemaster III [Nicholas Guevara/US Marine Corps/AFP]

Taliban said to be waiting until after August 31

An Afghan official familiar with talks with the Taliban has told the AP the group does not plan to make any decisions or announcements about the upcoming government until after the August 31 US withdrawal date passes.

The official, who is not authorised to give information to the media and thus spoke anonymously, says Taliban lead negotiator Anas Haqqani has told his ex-government interlocutors that the group has a deal with the US “to do nothing” until after the final withdrawal date passes.

He did not elaborate on whether the reference to doing nothing was only in the political field.


Vatican newspaper calls on global community to welcome Afghans

The Vatican’s newspaper is calling on the international community to welcome Afghan civilians fleeing the Taliban, expressing incredulousness “that before deciding to abandon the country no one thought through such a foreseeable scenario or did anything to avoid it”.

In a front-page article in the Friday edition of L’Osservatore Romano, deputy editor Gaetano Vallini said the West was obliged to urgently remedy the situation with concrete action and welcome refugees to avoid a “catastrophic humanitarian emergency”.

The commentary was an unusually blunt criticism of the US, though Washington was not singled out by name. After expressing shock at the chaos created by the US-led Western withdrawal, Gallini wrote: “It would be even more serious if such a decision was taken with the knowledge of such dramatic consequences.”

Afghan collaborators with the Spanish mission in Afghanistan and their families arrive in Dubai prior to flying to Spain [Spanish Ministry of Defence/AFP]

No incidents reported during Friday prayers in Kabul

Friday prayers were uneventful in the Afghan capital, with no Taliban gunmen seen guarding the entrances of mosques or enforcing dress code restrictions as they have in the past. Some mosques even saw higher numbers than normal in attendance.

“People were as normal, as in the past, but there were more of them,” Kabul resident Jawed Safi said, adding that there were “no restrictions so far”.

An imam in eastern Kabul, Bashir Wardak, said that Afghans should unite to stop the decades-long bloodshed. “Allah has ordered us to peace and brotherhood so we must get united,” he said.

One attendee, Qasim Ahmadi, saw people wearing jeans attend prayers as usual. “There should be no restrictions on us, we are already Muslims,” he said. “The Taliban should aim for an inclusive government in order to be successful.”


Afghan people sit inside a US military aircraft to leave Afghanistan [Shakib Rahmani/AFP]

German civilian wounded by gunshot on way to Kabul airport

A German civilian was shot on his way to Kabul airport but is not in a life-threatening condition and will soon be flown out of Afghanistan, a German government spokeswoman says.

“A German civilian suffered a gunshot wound on his way to Kabul airport. He is receiving medical attention, but his life is not in danger and he will be flown out soon,” the spokeswoman told a regular government news conference in Berlin.

Meanwhile, a defence ministry’s spokesperson in Berlin said Germany would send two light helicopters to Kabul to evacuate Germans at risk or situated in remote regions.


As Taliban returns, Afghan influencers go dark on social media

Sadiqa Madadgar’s social media looked much like any other successful young Afghan influencer’s until the Taliban stormed into Kabul and upended her dreams.

The return of the group has sent a shockwave through Afghanistan’s social media. Prominent influencers have gone dark or fled, while residents and activists are scrambling to scrub their digital lives.

Read more here.

An Afghan woman browses Facebook at the Young Women For Change internet cafe, Afghanistan’s first women-only net cafe, in Kabul [File: Shah Marai/AFP]

UN refugee agency: Afghans at risk ‘have no clear way out’

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says that most Afghans are unable to leave their homeland and that those who may be in danger “have no clear way out”.

Spokesperson Shabia Mantoo reiterated its call to neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to allow people to seek asylum in light of what she called the “evolving crisis”.

“UNHCR remains concerned about the risk of human rights violations against civilians in this evolving context, including women and girls,” she told a Geneva news briefing.


Germany provides funds for Afghan aid groups

Germany’s foreign ministry is providing 100 million euros ($116m) in emergency aid for Afghan refugees to support international aid organisations helping Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries, a minister says.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz announced the assistance and told DPA news agency it was “a first step that shows we feel responsible and care”. Further aid is expected to follow.

A young Afghan refugee at the Iran-Afghanistan border between Afghanistan and the southeastern Iranian Sistan and Baluchestan province [Mohammad Javadzadeh/Iranian Red Crescent/AFP]

Pakistan state carrier resumes flights to Kabul

Pakistan’s state-run airline has resumed special flights for Kabul to evacuate Pakistanis and foreigners stranded in Afghanistan.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, in a tweet, said Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will send its two planes to the Afghan capital on Friday to evacuate 350 passengers.

Chaudhry says Pakistan’s interior ministry is also facilitating the evacuation of Pakistanis and foreigners from Afghanistan through border crossings.


Spain’s hub for EU’s Afghan allies will have capacity for 1,000 people

The Spain-based hub to receive Afghan refugees who have worked with European Union institutions will have capacity for 1,000 people, Spain’s foreign minister says.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares told Spain’s state broadcaster RTVE the hub would be the entry door to the EU for such refugees and their families.

People received at the hub – which includes a COVID-19 testing area – will then be sent on to different EU countries, immigration minister Jose Luis Escriva said earlier.


Taliban making ‘door-to-door visits’: UN document

The Taliban is going house-to-house searching for opponents and their families, according to a United Nations threat assessment report, deepening fears that Afghanistan’s new rulers are planning revenge.

Read more here.

Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul [Rahmat Gul/AP]

Relative of Deutsche Welle reporter was killed by Taliban

Taliban fighters hunting a journalist with Deutsche Welle have shot dead one member of his family and severely injured another, the German public broadcaster says.

Deutsche Welle (DW) said the Taliban had been doing a house-to-house search to find the journalist who was now working in Germany. Other relatives were able to flee and are on the run now, according to the broadcaster.

“The killing of a close relative of one of our editors by the Taliban … is inconceivably tragic, and testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves,” DW Director General Peter Limbourg said, calling on the government in Berlin to take action.


Taliban to allow men’s cricket, no clarity on women’s programmes

The Taliban says it will not interfere with the Afghan men’s national cricket team, the country’s biggest sporting success of recent years, or stop the expansion of the flagship Twenty20 league, an Afghan cricket official says.

The fate of much more modest women’s cricket programmes, however, remains unclear.

“The Taliban don’t have any issue or problem with cricket, and they have told us that we can continue our work as planned,” said Afghanistan Cricket Board head of media operations Hikmat Hassan, adding that the team was ready for three one day matches against Pakistan next month.


An Afghan family at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman [Stringer/AFP]

‘Messy’ picture of reprisals in Afghanistan’s provinces

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Kabul, said the UN report on the Taliban targeting people who worked with the US and NATO forces contradicted the group’s assurances.

“The Taliban has been saying they have no interest in recriminations, reprisals,” he said. “But we do know that in the provinces, at local levels, there have been cases of people being targeted. There have been reprisals. People have been killed.”

“The question is how much is this the work of the Taliban even at a local level or how much is just a reprisal between individuals, between families or ethnic groups. It gets very messy and very confusing as you get out into the provinces of Afghanistan.”


Taliban behind brutal massacre of Hazara men: Amnesty

Taliban fighters massacred nine ethnic Hazara men after taking control of Afghanistan’s Ghazni province last month, Amnesty International, a global rights watchdog, says in a new report.

It cited witnesses of the killings, which took place between July 4 to 6 in the village of Mundarakht, Malistan district.

“Six of the men were shot and three were tortured to death, including one man who was strangled with his own scarf and had his arm muscles sliced off,” Amnesty said, urging the UN Security Council to adopt an emergency resolution demanding that the Taliban respect international human rights law.

Read more here.



Taliban revenge fears grow in Afghanistan

The Taliban has been conducting “targeted door-to-door visits” of people who worked with US and NATO forces, according to a confidential document by the UN’s threat assessment consultants seen by the AFP news agency.

The report, written by the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, said Taliban fighters were also screening people on the way to Kabul airport.

“They are targeting the families of those who refuse to give themselves up, and prosecuting and punishing their families ‘according to Sharia law’,” Christian Nellemann, the group’s executive director, told AFP.

“We expect both individuals previously working with NATO/US forces and their allies, alongside with their family members to be exposed to torture and executions.”


US evacuates about 3,000 more people

The US evacuated about 3,000 people from Afghanistan’s Kabul airport on Thursday, a White House official says.

“The United States evacuated approximately 3,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport on 16 C-17 flights,” the official said in a media pool report on Friday, adding that nearly 350 were US citizens.

“Additional evacuees include family members of US citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and their families, and vulnerable Afghans,” the official said, for a tally of about 9,000 evacuated by the military since August 14.


Taliban allowed to enter mosques with civilians

Taliban cadres are allowed to enter mosques with Afghan civilians for weekly Friday prayers, a Taliban official told the Reuters news agency.

The official also said several countries and organisations have reached out to Taliban leaders for help in evacuating their nationals or employees from Kabul.

Taliban fighters stand guard along a road in Herat city [Aref Karimi/AFP]

NATO: 18,000 people evacuated since Taliban takeover

More than 18,000 people have been evacuated from Kabul airport since the Taliban took over the Afghan capital, a NATO official told Reuters.

However, crowds continued to throng outside the airport, desperate to flee, said the official who declined to be identified.


Indonesian air force evacuates citizens from Afghanistan

Indonesia has evacuated 26 of its citizens from Afghanistan, its foreign minister says.

The island country picked up 33 people in total on a plane that headed home via Pakistan, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Twitter.

“The plane is now in Islamabad to continue on to Indonesia,” she said, adding there were 26 Indonesians on board, including embassy staff, plus five Filipinos and two Afghan nationals.


For key developments from yesterday, August 19, go here.


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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