US speeds up Afghan evacuations after Taliban warns of ‘red line’

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Kabul (AFP)

US troops on Tuesday led an increasingly desperate effort to airlift thousands of people out of Kabul, after the Taliban warned they would allow foreign forces to carry out evacuations for another week.

US President Joe Biden is under increasing pressure to extend the August 31 deadline for withdrawing US forces, with Britain expected to press Tuesday at a virtual G7 summit for a longer presence.

About 50,000 foreigners and Afghans have fled the country from Kabul airport since the Taliban came to power 10 days ago.

But crowds continued to crowd outside the airport, with Afghans terrified of facing life under the Taliban.

Many fear a repeat of the blunt interpretation of Sharia law the Taliban implemented when in power from 1996 to 2001, or retaliation for working with the US-backed government in the past two decades.

“The Taliban are the same as 20 years ago,” said Nilofar Bayat, a women’s rights activist and former Afghan wheelchair basketball captain, after fleeing and arriving in Spain.

“If you see Afghanistan now, it’s just men, there are no women because they don’t accept women as part of society.”

– ‘Red line’ –

The Taliban, who ended two decades of war with a surprisingly rapid rout of government forces, had publicly tolerated the evacuation effort.

But on Monday, they described next week’s deadline as a “red line.”

“If the United States or the United Kingdom asked for more time to continue the evacuations – the answer is no… there would be consequences,” spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News on Monday.

He said any foreign military presence beyond the agreed deadline “would prolong the occupation.”

The Taliban won their resounding victory thanks to Biden’s decision to speed up a deal struck by his predecessor, Donald Trump, to withdraw nearly all US troops from Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters patrol the streets of Kabul Wakil KOHSAR AFP

However, he was forced to redeploy thousands of troops after the fall of Kabul to oversee the airlift.

Biden and his top aides have repeatedly insisted they aim to meet their August 31 deadline.

“The goal is to get as many people out as quickly as possible,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday.

“The goal is to try to do it as best we can, by the end of the month.”

But European and British leaders are asking for more time.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Prime Minister Boris Johnson would raise the issue at the virtual G7 summit.

Germany also said it was in talks with NATO allies and the Taliban to keep Kabul airport open for evacuations beyond August 31, while France said “a delay additional is required to complete ongoing operations “.

The crowd outside Kabul airport of people hoping to leave was huge
The crowd outside Kabul airport of people hoping to leave was huge Wakil KOHSAR AFP / File

The rush to leave Kabul sparked poignant scenes and left at least eight people dead.

Some of them were crushed to death and at least one, a young football player, died after falling from a plane.

The German Defense Ministry said on Monday that an Afghan soldier was killed and three others wounded in a shootout with unknown assailants.

– New government –

The Taliban are currently working on forming a government, but two sources within the movement told AFP there would be no announcements of a cabinet until the last U.S. soldier left. Afghanistan.

The Taliban have repeatedly claimed that they are different from their 90s incarnation and declared an amnesty for government forces and officials.

Graph showing the number of evacuees from Kabul, Afghanistan, by country as of 23 August 2021 at 17:00 GMT
Graph showing the number of evacuees from Kabul, Afghanistan, by country as of 23 August 2021 at 17:00 GMT Cléa PÉCULIER AFP

But an intelligence assessment conducted for the United Nations indicated that militants were going door-to-door looking for former government officials and those working with US and NATO forces.

In the capital, the former insurgents have established a certain calm, their fighters patrolling the streets and occupying checkpoints.

But they also intend to crush the last notable Afghan military resistance to their regime, made up of ex-government forces in the Panjshir valley, north of the capital.

Panjshir has long been known as an anti-Taliban stronghold.

Another is Amrullah Saleh, vice president and intelligence chief in the ousted government.

The Taliban have said they have massed forces outside the valley, but would prefer a negotiated end to the stalemate.


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