The Taliban is reiterating that it will not agree to an extension of a looming deadline to evacuate Afghans from Kabul airport, even as Western countries say they are running out of time.
Speaking at a press conference in the capital Kabul on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group would not approve an extension, and told the US to stop evacuating skilled Afghans.
European nations have said they will not be able to airlift at-risk Afghans before the August 31 cut-off, and United States President Joe Biden has faced calls from all corners to extend the evacuation window.
Mujahid also said female Afghan government workers should stay home until security conditions in the country improve.
US-led troops have ramped up operations to get thousands of people out of Kabul, after the Taliban warned it would not allow the US to extend the deadline for a complete withdrawal.
President Biden said he would stick to the schedule, but has faced growing pressure to negotiate more time for the evacuations.
Germany said on Tuesday that Western allies simply cannot fly every Afghan who needs protection out of Kabul before the cut-off date.
“Even if [the evacuation] goes on until August 31 or even a few days longer, it will not be enough to allow those who we, or the United States, want to fly out,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Bild TV.
Earlier, France said it would have to end evacuations from Kabul’s airport on Thursday if the US stuck to the deadline, and Spain said it would not be able to rescue all Afghans who served Spanish missions.
The United Kingdom, meanwhile, has said it will lobby for an extension at a virtual G7 summit later on Tuesday.
Guarantee of security
About 50,000 foreigners and Afghans have fled the country from Kabul’s airport since the Taliban swept into power nine days ago, according to the US government.
Many Afghans fear a repeat of the strict interpretation of Islamic law that the Taliban implemented when first in power from 1996-2001, or retribution for working with the US-backed government during the past two decades.
The Taliban, which ended 20 years of war with an astonishingly swift rout of government forces, has largely been publicly tolerant of the evacuation effort.
But on Tuesday, Mujahid reiterated an earlier Taliban warning against extending the airlift.
He also said Americans were taking “Afghan experts”, such as engineers out of Afghanistan.
“We ask them to stop this process,” he said.
“This country needs their expertise. They should not be taken to other countries,” Mujahid added.
He urged Afghans to “return to their homes and resume their calm everyday lives” as the crowding at the airport was dangerous and “people could lose their lives”.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford reporting from Kabul said that at the news conference Mujahid had reassured the crowd at the airport that they can go home with their safety guaranteed.
“But they’ve also said that people can leave this country after the deadline expires on commercial flights, if they have the right paperwork. But nobody knows when these commercial flights will start,” Stratford said.
‘Time is running out’
The rush to leave Kabul has sparked harrowing scenes and at least 19 people have been killed since August 15.
Some have been crushed to death and at least one, a youth football player, died after falling off a plane.
The German defence ministry said on Monday that an Afghan soldier was killed and three others wounded in a firefight with unknown assailants.
Margarita Robles, the Spanish defence minister, said the security situation was getting worse.
“The Taliban are becoming more aggressive, there is gunfire, violence is more obvious,” she said in an interview with news radio Cadena Ser.
“The situation is frankly dramatic and besides, with each passing day, it is worse because people are conscious that time is running out.”
The Taliban has repeatedly claimed to be different from its 1990s incarnation, and has declared an amnesty for government forces and officials.
But an intelligence assessment conducted for the United Nations said the group was going door-to-door hunting former government officials and those who worked with US and NATO forces.
In the capital and other cities, it has enforced some sense of calm, with its fighters patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints.