US tells citizens to avoid Kabul airport amid security fears
The Taliban rejects responsibility for the Kabul airport chaos, saying the West could have had a better evacuation plan.
The United States has advised Americans in Afghanistan to avoid travelling to Kabul airport on Saturday due to “potential security threats”.
The US embassy advisory asked people to wait for “individual instructions from a US government representative”.
Six days after the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan, the flow of people trying to flee continued to overwhelm Kabul.
US President Joe Biden warned he could not predict the outcome of one of the “most difficult airlifts in history”.
Meanwhile, a Taliban official told Reuters news agency the chaos at the airport was not the responsibility of the group, saying “the West could have had a better plan to evacuate”.
The official speaking on condition of anonymity ruled out incidents of reported kidnappings of foreigners, but added, “we are questioning some of them before they exit the country”.
Here were the updates on Saturday:
People dying in wait outside Kabul airport: Sky News report
The bodies of at least three people were seen in the sweltering crush outside Kabul airport, television news footage showed, as thousands try desperately to flee Taliban rule in a chaotic evacuation.
The footage from Britain’s Sky News showed soldiers covering three bodies in white tarpaulins. It was not clear how they died.
Sky reporter Stuart Ramsay, who was at the airport, said that people at the front of the crowd were being “crushed” and that medics were rushing from casualty to casualty. The footage also showed multiple wounded people.
Ramsay said people were “dehydrated and terrified” and he filmed soldiers aiming a hose into the crowd, saying they were using “anything to cool them down”.
New Afghan system will be ‘inclusive’, Taliban tells Al Jazeera
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, from the Taliban’s Cultural Commission, has told Al Jazeera that talks are ongoing to form a new government and include discussions over whether the capital will remain in Kabul or move to the group’s birthplace of Kandahar.
“The consultations are ongoing of course it is going to be an inclusive system but I do not have the details of who is going to be in the government and who is not going to be in the government,” he said.
Balkhi acknowledged that Kabul airport remains a flashpoint, but said the chaos there was a problem created by the United States as it rushes to evacuate thousands of people.
“I think it is very unfortunate for people to be rushing to the airport the way they are at the moment … We have announced general amnesty for everyone, in the security forces from the senior to the junior level. This fear, this hysteria that is taking place is unfounded,” he said.
The Taliban is reported to have conducted raids on homes, targeted killings and harassed government and civil society figures. It denies the claims but said it is investigating cases of criminality.
“Our foremost priority is discipline in our own ranks and not enforcing laws on others but enforcing it on ourselves first and then giving it an example for the rest of society to follow suit so … if our members are involved in such things, they will be the first to be prosecuted,” Balkhi said.
Turkey’s Erdogan urges Putin to remain ‘open’ to Taliban
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urges Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to maintain dialogue with the Taliban and to take a “gradual” approach to relations with Afghanistan’s new rulers.
“We must keep the channels of open dialogue with the Taliban and pursue a gradual engagement instead of an approach based on hard conditions,” Erdogan said in a phone call with Putin, according to a statement from his office.
The Turkish leader also welcomed talks between the Taliban and former senior Afghan officials as “promising”.
“We welcome the Taliban’s moderate messages as positive for the moment, but the process ahead will be shaped not by their words but by their deeds,” Erdogan said.
Biden briefed on the Kabul situation, ISIL threat
The White House says President Joe Biden has been briefed by members of his national security team on the evolving situation in Afghanistan.
Biden and his team met in the White House Situation Room to discuss the security situation and counterterrorism operations, including against the ISIL (ISIS) group in Afghanistan. Evacuations and efforts to finalise agreements with third-party countries willing to serve as transit hubs for evacuees were also discussed.
Vice President Kamala Harris joined the meeting by secure video teleconference during her travels to Singapore. They were joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and National Intelligence Director Avril Haines, among others.
‘Impossible’ to evacuate all allied Afghans by August 31
“It’s mathematically impossible” for the US and its allies to evacuate the tens of thousands of Afghan personnel and families by August 31, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the AFP news agency.
Borrell, speaking from Spain in a telephone interview, added that “we have complained” to the Americans that their security at Kabul airport was overly strict and hampering attempts by Afghans who worked for the Europeans to enter.
ISIL threat forces US changes to evacuations at Kabul airport
Potential threats by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group against Americans in Afghanistan are forcing the US military to develop new ways to get evacuees to the airport in Kabul, a senior US official says.
The official told The Associated Press news agency that small groups of Americans and possibly other civilians will be given specific instructions on what to do, including movement to transit points where they can be gathered up by the military. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.
The changes come as the US Embassy issued a new security warning Saturday telling citizens not to travel to the Kabul airport without individual instruction from a US government representative. Officials declined to provide more specifics about the ISIL threat but described it as significant, and said there have been no confirmed attacks as yet.
Thousands rally in London decrying Taliban takeover
Thousands have rallied in central London to protest the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and show solidarity with Afghans opposed to the new regime in Kabul.
Several thousand people descended on the centre of the British capital, massing in Hyde Park and marching down Whitehall past Downing Street, the residence and office of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Protesters at the London event marched behind a banner reading “Talib has not changed”, while others held signs bearing slogans like “stop killing Afghans” and “stop the oppression of Afghan women”.
Many attendees also waved the black, red and green national flag of Afghanistan and chanted slogans opposing the Taliban takeover.
US officials: 2,500 Americans evacuated from Kabul in past week
The United States has evacuated 2,500 Americans from Kabul over the past week, senior US officials say, adding that Washington is fighting against “time and space” to evacuate people from Afghanistan.
Briefing reporters at the Pentagon, Major General William Taylor said a total of 17,000 people have so far been evacuated including the 2,500 Americans.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said he did not have a “perfect figure” on how many Americans remain in Kabul and Afghanistan more broadly.
Taliban trying to provide ‘smooth exit’ for people fleeing Kabul
The Taliban are making progress in forming a government in Afghanistan and ensuring security across the country since taking the capital Kabul last weekend, a Taliban official says.
He said security risks could not be ruled out at Kabul airport where thousands gather each day trying to leave.
The Taliban are “aiming to improve the situation and provide a smooth exit” at the airport over the weekend, he said.
Talks between Taliban and ex-leaders ‘promising’: Erdogan tells Putin
Ongoing negotiations between Taliban and former Afghan leaders on a future government are “promising”, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after a phone call with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Both leaders have agreed to coordinate the next steps in relations with a future government in Afghanistan, according to Erdogan’s office.
Erdogan stressed the new government should be “inclusive” to represent all ethnic groups in the country. The Turkish president separately said Ankara is interested in continuing to operate the Kabul airport “under favourable terms”.
Taliban stop Afghan government employees from returning to work
Government employees in Kabul were blocked by Taliban fighters from returning to their offices on the first day of the Afghan working week.
Roads leading to the foreign ministry in central Kabul were closed, an employee told the AFP news agency.
“They aren’t allowing anyone to enter,” he said on condition of anonymity. “One of them even told me to wait until the new minister and directors are appointed.”
The foreign exchange market was also shut as it awaited instructions from the central bank, traders said.
Workers at the offices of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation in Kabul, however, were allowed to enter after showing their ID cards, an employee there said.
Over 7,000 evacuated to Qatar from Afghanistan
More than 7,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan to Qatar, an official from the Gulf state says.
“Since the start of international operations, over 7,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan to Qatar,” a Qatari official who declined to be identified told the AFP news agency.
“At the request of NGOs, educational institutions and international media organisations, we evacuated hundreds of Afghan employees and their families, as well as female students across the country,” the official said.
Doha will eventually settle up to 8,000 Afghans, according to the Qatari official, who stressed that many of the 7,000 people currently in Qatar were transiting to third countries.
Briton in Kabul says situation ‘getting worse’
A former Royal Marine turned charity director in Afghanistan has slammed British government claims that the situation in the war-torn country is stabilising, warning that he and his staff would be risking their lives if they tried to get to the airport in Kabul.
Paul Farthing, better known as “Pen”, said he has been told by British authorities that he has a seat on a flight back to the UK, but not for the 25 staff from his animal welfare charity Nowzad and their families.
Farthing told BBC radio that he is “disgusted” at the situation, and warned that the humanitarian crisis is now “getting out of control”.
“We can’t leave the country because we can’t get into the airport without putting our lives at risk.” he said. “You’ve all seen the scenes – it is not different today to any other time, it is just getting worse.”
He said he is “past angry” and “just completely numb at the incompetence of this operation”.
Putin, Erdogan to strengthen coordination on Afghan issues: Kremlin
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the situation in Afghanistan during a phone call and agreed to strengthen bilateral coordination on Afghan issues, the Kremlin says in a statement.
The presidents emphasised the priority was counter-terrorism and efforts to tackle drug trafficking, the Kremlin said.
‘We want a peaceful, stable Afghanistan’: Pakistan’s FM
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told Al Jazeera in Islamabad that despite being “a victim” of the West’s war on terror and being kept in the dark on the decision of the US invasion as well as the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan wanted to be “a partner in peace”.
“Pakistan wants to see reconciliation. Pakistan is not just engaging with the Taliban, it is engaging with the entire Afghan leadership,” he said. “Let us not repeat the mistakes of the 90s. We want to be forward looking. We want a peaceful, stable Afghanistan. It is in our enlightened self-interest.”
He also said the Taliban managed to seize power swiftly thanks to the public support inside Afghanistan.
RSF calls for US plan to evacuate Afghan journalists
Reporters Without Borders calls on US President Joe Biden to make “a special plan for evacuating endangered Afghan journalists” from Taliban-controlled Kabul.
RSF said the United States currently seemed to be concerned only with the evacuation “of its own citizens and former employees. This is blocking the evacuation of those on the lists of sensitive persons who are in danger.”
“We are receiving dozens and dozens of urgent evacuation requests,” said RSF chief Christophe Deloire. “Our problem today is not getting visas or seats on planes, it is making it possible for these people to access planes.”
EU says no recognition of Taliban
The European Union has not recognised the Taliban, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, nor is it holding political talks with the group.
The head of the EU executive spoke after visiting a reception centre in Madrid for Afghan employees of EU institutions evacuated from Kabul.
Von der Leyen said she would propose an increase in the 57 million euros ($67m) in humanitarian aid which the Commission had allocated this year for Afghanistan.
I am grateful to @sanchezcastejon and @JosepBorrellF for having taken the initiative to coordinate the reception of incoming Afghan EU Delegation staff and their families and for setting up this reception hub. https://t.co/Div1MY6Qqh
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) August 21, 2021
US warns citizens away from Kabul airport due to potential threats
The US has advised Americans in Afghanistan to avoid travelling to Kabul airport in an embassy travel advisory as thousands try to flee the country.
“Because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport, we are advising US citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a US government representative to do so,” the advisory said.
France says has evacuated 570 since Monday
France says it has evacuated more than 570 people, including at least 407 Afghan citizens, from Kabul on its military aircraft since Monday.
In a statement, the Defence Ministry added that a fourth evacuation plane landed on Friday evening in Paris, carrying four French citizens and 99 Afghans, mostly people who worked with the French government or French groups in Afghanistan.
The ministry said state services and the French embassy, which has been moved to Kabul airport, remain “fully mobilised to ensure new flights as soon as possible”.
Germany has evacuated almost 2,000 from Kabul airport, Berlin says
The German military has airlifted almost 2,000 people out of Kabul airport, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told journalists.
Two light helicopters, shipped to Kabul overnight, are ready to start evacuation operations out of the city, which will be coordinated with international partners on the ground, she added.
Germany’s chief of defence, General Eberhard Zorn, said the German air force will transport baby food and hygienic articles needed at the airport to Kabul.
Switzerland postpones evacuation flight as security at airport worsens
Switzerland has postponed a charter flight to Uzbekistan aimed at helping the evacuation effort from neighbouring Afghanistan, its foreign ministry said, citing worsening security that has hindered access on the ground to Kabul airport.
“The security situation around Kabul airport has worsened significantly in the last hours. A large number of people in front of the airport and sometimes violent confrontations are hindering access to the airport in Kabul,” the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) said in a statement.
Italy evacuates 1,000 Afghans from Kabul
Italy says its military has evacuated nearly 1,000 Afghan citizens out of Kabul over the last five days.
The defence ministry said two flights carrying 207 Afghans arrived in Rome from Kuwait, which Italy is using as a staging ground for the Kabul evacuations.
Italy has deployed more than 1,500 servicemen and servicewomen to operate an airbridge from Kabul to Kuwait on four C-130J aircraft, and to ferry evacuees to safety in Italy on four KC-767s.
Netherlands says first group of Afghans arrives
The Dutch defence ministry says the first group of Afghans evacuated from Kabul on Dutch military transport planes has arrived at a barracks in the northern Netherlands that has been transformed into a temporary accommodation centre.
The ministry said on Friday that a group of 28 Afghans has been taken to the centre in Zoutcamp, a small village some 180km (120 miles) north of Amsterdam.
Dutch authorities say they have so far managed five flights out of Kabul with nearly 300 passengers. It is not clear how many of them were Afghans.
Merkel says Afghan army collapsed at ‘breathtaking pace’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has conceded that the Afghan army’s resistance against the Taliban had been misjudged.
“The army collapsed at a breathtaking pace,” Merkel said at an election event. “We had expected the resistance to be stronger.”
Merkel said the focus now was on rescuing people from Afghanistan, but later there would need to be a discussion on what had been achieved and what could not be.
Uzbekistan accepts 400 more refugees from Afghanistan: Media
Uzbekistan has accepted about 400 more refugees from Afghanistan and put them up in temporary accommodation near the Afghan border, the Russian state news agency TASS reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the matter.
It is unclear how many Afghans have crossed into the former Soviet republic. The Tashkent government has denied that senior Afghan figures such as ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dustum were among them.
Spain minister welcomes evacuees from Afghanistan
A second Spanish repatriation plane from Afghanistan has arrived at a Madrid military base where the evacuees were greeted by Spanish Presidency Minister Felix Bolanos.
The plane flew from Kabul via Dubai carrying 110 people, including Afghans and their families.
Indonesia moves Afghan diplomatic mission to Pakistan
Indonesia has moved its Afghanistan diplomatic mission from Kabul to Pakistan, its foreign minister said, after its air force evacuated dozens in the wake of the Taliban’s seizure of power.
“Temporarily, the diplomatic mission in Kabul will be done from Islamabad,” Retno Marsudi said in televised remarks at the Halim military airport in Jakarta.
The initial plan had been to “continue our diplomatic mission in Kabul with a small team” but changed due to a “new development”, which she did not specify. She did not take questions.
Romania evacuates 14 citizens, four Bulgarians
Romania’s foreign ministry says that a military aircraft has evacuated 14 Romanian citizens and four Bulgarians from Kabul airport to Islamabad.
Authorities said the evacuees were assisted on arrival by Romanian embassy staff in Pakistan. It was Romania’s third evacuation flight this week using a C-130 Hercules military aircraft.
The ministry also said it has “validated and contacted” a number of Afghan citizens who collaborated with its troops during their mission in Afghanistan who have expressed a wish to be evacuated to Romania.
Blinken says 12 countries to host Afghan refugees
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says 13 countries have thus far agreed to at least temporarily host at-risk Afghans evacuated from Afghanistan. Another 12 have agreed to serve as transit points for evacuees, including Americans and others, leaving Afghanistan.
Blinken said in a statement that potential Afghan refugees not already cleared for resettlement in the United States will be housed at facilities in Albania, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uganda.
Transit countries include Bahrain, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, the UAE and Uzbekistan.
German choppers arrive for evacuation missions outside Kabul airport
Two German military helicopters have arrived in the Afghan capital Kabul to help with the evacuation of people trying to flee the Taliban, as the situation at and around the airport becomes more desperate by the day.
“The two Airbus H145M helicopters loaded yesterday in Wunstorf have arrived in Kabul,” the Bundeswehr wrote on Twitter.
Taliban co-founder Baradar in Kabul for talks: Official
The Taliban’s co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has arrived in Kabul for talks with fellow members of the group and other politicians on establishing a new Afghan government.
“He will be in Kabul to meet leaders and politicians for an inclusive government set-up,” a senior Taliban official told the AFP news agency.
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 US.
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 US 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 judgement as we go,” he said.
Footage of US Marine aiding baby captures Kabul chaos
A heartbreaking 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 nappy 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 about the family, or their status – whether they had been accepted to immigrate to the US 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 has 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 allowing airport use for evacuations
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 Fifth 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”.
We are grateful to the Government of Bahrain for the support to safely transit U.S. citizens and Embassy Kabul personnel from Afghanistan through Bahrain. We deeply appreciate the support and value our strong and enduring partnership.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) August 20, 2021
Taliban promises 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.
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 of Taliban] 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.