Sunday, 26 September, 2021
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Firefight erupts at Kabul airport

1 dies; evacuation chaos continues

KABUL: Western security forces exchanged fire with unidentified gunmen on Monday at Kabul airport, as US President Joe Biden sought to speed up the chaotic evacuation of tens of thousands of people from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, reports AFP.

One Afghan was killed and three others were injured in a dawn firefight that according to the German military erupted between Afghan guards and unknown assailants.

German and American troops “participated in further exchange of fire”, the German army said in a statement.

This was the latest episode in a chaotic operation overseen by the US army that has seen about 30,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban marched into Kabul on August 15, taking effective control of the country.

The Taliban warned on Monday there would be “consequences” if the United States and its allies extend their presence in Afghanistan beyond next week, as chaos continued to overwhelm Kabul airport.

“If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations—the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News on Monday.

But terrified Afghans continue to try and flee, overwhelming the operation at Kabul airport and leading to tragic scenes in which at least eight people have died.

Biden, who has redeployed thousands back to Afghanistan to oversee the evacuations, has insisted he wants to end the US military presence and the airlifts by August 31.

But with the European Union and Britain saying it would be impossible to get everyone out by then, Biden is under pressure to extend the deadline.

Speaking at the White House, Biden said Sunday he hoped the airlift would not be extended, but said talks were underway to explore that possibility.

“There’s discussions going among us and the military about extending,” Biden said.

He acknowledged the tragic scenes at the airport, which have also included babies and children being passed to soldiers over razor-wire fences and men clinging to the outside of departing planes.

But he said they were part of the cost of departure.

“There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see,” he said.

Biden spoke after the Taliban, who have been holding talks with elders and politicians to set up a government, slammed the evacuation.

“America, with all its power and facilities... has failed to bring order to the airport,” Taliban official Amir Khan Mutaqi said.

“There is peace and calm all over the country, but there is chaos only at Kabul airport.”

In the streets of the capital, the Taliban have indeed enforced a calm of a kind, with their armed forces patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints.

Visually, they have also been looking to stamp their authority, ensuring the tri-coloured national flag is replaced with their white banner.

At a roadside in Kabul at the weekend, young men sold Taliban flags, which bear in black text the Muslim proclamation of faith and the regime’s formal name: “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.

“Our goal is to spread the flag of the Islamic Emirate throughout Afghanistan,” said seller Ahmad Shakib, who studies economics at university.

Outside of Kabul, there have been flickers of resistance against the Taliban.

Some ex-government troops have gathered in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital—long known as an anti-Taliban bastion.

The Taliban said Monday their fighters had surrounded resistance forces holed up in the valley, but were looking to negotiate rather than take the fight to them.

Taliban fighters “are stationed near Panjshir”, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, saying they had the area surrounded on three sides.

“The Islamic Emirate is trying to resolve this issue peacefully,” he added.

The announcement follows scattered reports of clashes overnight, with pro-Taliban social media accounts claiming gunmen were massing, and Afghanistan’s former vice president Amrullah Saleh saying resistance forces were holding strong.

One of the leaders of the movement in Panjshir, named the National Resistance Front, is the son of famed anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

The NRF is prepared for a “long-term conflict” but is also still seeking to negotiate with the Taliban about an inclusive government, its spokesman Ali Maisam Nazary told AFP in an interview on the weekend.

“The conditions for a peace deal with the Taliban are decentralisation, a system that ensures social justice, equality, rights, and freedom for all,” he said.