A panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul International Airport killed seven Afghan civilians in the crowd, the British military said on Sunday, showing the danger still posed to those trying to flee the country’s takeover by the Taliban.
The deaths come as a group of fighters opposed to the Taliban regime battles insurgents in the mountains and valleys north of Kabul, capturing several rural districts. While details of the fighting remain unclear, it is the first organized resistance to rise up against the Taliban since they crossed the country in less than a week to capture most of the country and its territory. capital city. The Taliban deployed fighters on Sunday to launch a possible offensive there.
Kabul Airport, now one of the few routes out of the country for the millions of people in the city, has seen days of chaos since the Taliban entered the capital on August 15. Thousands of people rushed to the airport last Monday in chaos that saw the United States attempting to clear the runway with low-flying attack helicopters. Several Afghans died as they were suspended from the side of a US military cargo plane, some of the seven killed that day alone.
In chaotic scenes on Saturday, British and Western troops in full riot gear attempted to control crowds large enough to be seen in satellite photos crowding the airport. They took away a few that were sweating and looking pale. With temperatures reaching 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit), soldiers sprayed water from a hose on the gathered people or gave them bottled water to pour over their heads.
The British army on Sunday admitted the seven dead civilians in the crowd. There were further shoves and crushing injuries in the crowd, especially as Taliban fighters fire in the air to chase those desperate to catch a flight out of the country.
“Conditions on the ground remain extremely difficult, but we are doing everything possible to handle the situation as safely and securely as possible,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear whether those killed were physically crushed, suffocated or suffered a fatal heart attack in the crowd. The soldiers covered several corpses with white clothes to hide them. Other troops stood atop concrete barriers or shipping containers, trying to calm the crowds. Shots were sometimes heard.
The chaos at Kabul airport comes as a new perceived threat from the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan has seen US military planes make quick and diving combat landings at the airport. Other planes fired flares on takeoff, an effort to confuse possible heat-seeking missiles targeting the planes.
Amir Khan Motaqi, head of the Taliban policy council, criticized America over the situation at the airport in an audio clip posted online on Sunday. He called the US actions “tyranny” – even as it was Taliban fighters who beat and shot those trying to access the airport over the past week.
“All of Afghanistan is secure, but the airport which is run by the Americans is in the grip of anarchy,” he said. “The United States shouldn’t defame itself, shouldn’t embarrass itself in front of the world, and shouldn’t give our people this mentality that (the Taliban) is kind of an enemy.”
Speaking to an Iranian state television station on a Saturday night video call, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem also blamed the deaths at the airport on Americans in what quickly became an interview. combative.
“The Americans announced that we would take you to America with us and people gathered at the Kabul airport,” Naeem said. “If it was announced now in any country in the world, wouldn’t people go?”
The Iranian state television host, who has long criticized America since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, quickly said, “This will not happen in Iran.
Naeem replied, “Make sure it happens anywhere.”
Meanwhile, fighting broke out in the Afghan province of Baghlan, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Kabul. Forces organized under the “People’s Uprising” banner have taken three districts around the Andarab Valley, nestled in the Hindu Kush mountains near Panjshir, the only province still under Taliban control.
On Sunday, the Taliban posted a video online showing fighters, including their elite special forces, preparing to go there, possibly to fight “popular uprising” forces. Four officials said the Taliban traveled to the Keshnabad area in the Andarab Valley to abduct the children of those who opposed them.
Khair Mohammad Khairkhwa, the former head of intelligence in Balkh province, and Abdul Ahmad Dadgar, another uprising leader, claimed that Taliban fighters attacked people’s homes and burned them while taking children. Two other officials, who requested anonymity, also said the Taliban seized the children of the fighters. The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the fighting.
Later Sunday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin activated the initial phase of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, requesting 18 planes from U.S. carriers to help transport Afghan refugees once they are evacuated from their country by military planes. . As part of the voluntary program, civilian airlines add military aircraft capacity during a national defense crisis. This program was born in the wake of the Berlin Airlift.
The Biden administration requested three planes each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines.
Meanwhile, the Taliban’s top political leader has arrived in Kabul for talks on forming a new government. The presence of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who returned to Kandahar earlier this week from Qatar, was confirmed by a Taliban official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Afghan officials familiar with talks in the capital said the Taliban had said they would not make any announcements about their government until the August 31 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops.