Tens of thousands of Afghans raced to flee their country on Sunday as the United States warned of security threats at Kabul’s chaotic airport and the European Union said it was “impossible” to evacuate anyone at risk from the Taliban.
In the week since hardline terrorists took back power in Afghanistan, the Taliban have vowed a softer version of their brutal 1996-2001 rule and have taken steps to form a government.
But terrified Afghans continue to try to flee, exacerbating a tragedy at the Kabul airport, where the United States and its allies were unable to cope with the sheer numbers of people attempting to board evacuation flights.
Britain’s Sky News broadcast images of at least three bodies covered in white tarpaulin outside the airport on Saturday. It was not clear how they had died.
Sky reporter Stuart Ramsay, who was at the airport, called the deaths “inevitable” and said people were “crushed”, while others were “dehydrated and terrified”.
The footage was the latest image of utter despair, following video of a baby being lifted over a wall at the airport and horror scenes of people hanging from departing planes.
Families hoping for a miracle among the barbed wire that surrounds an unofficial no-man’s-land separating the Taliban from US forces. The roads to the airport were full of traffic.
President Joe Biden has described the situation as “one of the largest and most difficult airlifts in history”.
Conditions were further complicated on Saturday when the US government warned its citizens to stay away from the airport.
No specific reason was given, but a White House official later said Biden had been briefed on “counter-terrorism” threats, including the Islamic State group.
The United States, which has thousands of troops trying to secure the airport, has set a deadline to complete the evacuations by August 31.
But there are up to 15,000 Americans and 50,000 to 60,000 Afghan allies to be evacuated, the Biden administration said.
There are countless others, including journalists, who fear repression under the Taliban and are also trying to flee.
“We know we are fighting against both time and space,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby admitted, while others gave a more somber verdict.
“They want to evacuate 60,000 people between now and the end of this month. It’s mathematically impossible,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s head of foreign policy, told AFP.
Borrell added that “we have complained” to the Americans that their airport security was too strict and hindered attempts by Afghans working for the Europeans to get in.
Biden has said the airlift deadline could be extended. Borrell said that to the best of his knowledge that decision had not yet been made.
On Saturday, the Pentagon said 17,000 people have been evacuated since the operation began on Aug. 14, including 2,500 Americans.
Thousands more have left on other foreign military flights.
The Taliban are publicly pleased that the US military is overseeing the airlift, while focusing on how they will run the country once the foreign troops leave.
Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar flew into Kabul on Saturday and officials said they were mapping out an “inclusive government”.
A senior Taliban official told AFP that Baradar would meet with jihadist leaders, elders and politicians in the coming days.
The meeting in Kabul included leaders from the Haqqani Network, a US-designated terrorist organization with millions of dollars to its leadership.
The Taliban invaded Kabul last week, ending two decades of war, stunned the world as government forces surrendered en masse, raising questions about Washington’s ability to support its allies.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who led Britain to war with the United States in Afghanistan in 2001, on Saturday criticized US motives for the withdrawal as “imbecile”.
“Abandoning Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interest and not in ours,” Blair wrote in a lengthy article.
“We didn’t have to do it. We chose to do it.
(This story was not edited by NewsMadura staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)