As the Taliban attempted to consolidate control over Afghanistan on Wednesday, they faced the first challenges of their newfound rule, using violence to break protests in at least two cities while an opposing faction vowed to hold out in one part of Afghanistan. the country.
Millions of Afghans tried to parse conflicting clues about what lay ahead for them and their nation, but many were eager to find out.
Despite the Taliban’s assurances that there would be no reprisals against their opponents, thousands of people continued to crowd around the capital’s Kabul airport, hoping to get a flight out of the country. Crowds rushed to certain entrances but were met by Taliban forces who beat people back and fired their rifles into the air. A NATO official on the ground said 17 people were injured.
Taliban fighters used gunfire to disperse demonstrations in the northeastern city of Jalalabad and the southeastern city of Khost, with some protesters raising Afghan government flags that the Taliban had downed several days earlier. According to news reports, two or three people have died in Jalalabad.
But in other cities there was a tense silence.
The former president, Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country on Sunday, turned up in the United Arab Emirates and made his first public statement, saying that if he had stayed in Kabul, “the Afghan people would have witnessed the hanging from the president.”
President Biden said on Wednesday that he was determined to get every American out of Afghanistan, even if that meant keeping troops there after the August 31 withdrawal deadline he set. “If there are any American citizens left, we’ll stay to get them all out,” he told ABC News.
Although the Taliban control almost the entire country, some prominent figures have held out with a corps of loyal fighters, saying they do not recognize the Taliban as legitimate rulers. One of them, Amrullah Saleh, the vice president in the overthrown government, claimed that Mr Ghani’s flight from the country had made him acting president.
Mr Saleh is in the northeastern Panjshir Valley, a stronghold of resistance against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the Taliban a decade later. He is linked to a regional leader, Ahmad Massoud, whose father, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was the leading anti-Taliban commander a generation ago, until he was assassinated two days before the September 11 attacks.
“You can see I am in Panjshir and with our people,” Mr Massoud said in a video posted on Facebook on Wednesday. “God willing, I’ll stay here with our people.”
The Taliban have tried to send a signal to Afghanistan and the world that their return to power this week will not lead to a repeat of the bloody regime from 1996 to 2001, which brutally oppressed women, minorities and dissenters and left Al Qaeda a safe haven. offered.
But so far, evidence of what that more “inclusive” approach will mean, as a Taliban spokesman described it on Tuesday, is meager, and Afghanistan is a nation in turmoil.
In some places women are allowed to go to work and roam freely, but in others not. Some schools are open again, others are not. The peace and order that the Taliban have tried to promote has been shattered by violence and looting. People were told they could leave the country, but many were prevented from doing so, and it was uncertain how willing the rest of the world would be to welcome those who make it.
Local Taliban commanders and fighters seemed unsure about which rules to enforce, so conditions varied widely depending on who was present, international observers said.
“They tell us they are still waiting for instructions from the leadership, so the instructions have not yet reached the ground,” said Caroline Van Buren, the Afghan representative for the United Nations Refugee Agency.
But a threat assessment commissioned by the United Nations says Taliban militants appear to be stepping up their efforts to arrest people who worked in the former government, particularly in the security services, and those who helped them — or, failing that, , can seize their family members, according to a confidential document shared internally with UN officials and seen by NewsMadura.
The Taliban have asked UN aid agencies and other humanitarian groups to stay in Afghanistan, and for the most part they have said they intend to stay. Millions of Afghans depend on foreign aid for food.
During their previous stint in power, the Taliban banned women from working, going to school or even going outside without wearing a burqa and being accompanied by a male relative. Those who broke the group’s codes were publicly flogged and sometimes executed.
Taliban officials have hinted that they intend to involve former opponents in running the country, and they have left some officials of the former government in place for the time being.
Senior representatives of the Taliban and the former US-backed government met again on Wednesday to discuss settlements, but predictions that they would announce an interim council proved premature.
The presence of US troops had risen to nearly 5,000 at the airport in Kabul by the end of Wednesday, the Pentagon said, to provide security and coordinate the evacuation of Americans, as well as Afghans who have collaborated with American-led forces and troops. fear retaliation from the Taliban.
In a 24-hour period from Tuesday to Wednesday, officials said, 18 of the giant C-17 military transports left the airport, carrying about 2,000 people; 325 of them were Americans and the rest were Afghans and personnel from other NATO countries. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the plan is to transfer up to 5,000 to 9,000 people a day from the military side of the airport.
Conditions were more chaotic on the civilian side of the airport. The Taliban, who have asked Afghans to stay in the country, allowed some to leave with visas and tickets. But thousands of others, including entire families, have been turned away and remain just outside the airport walls, rolling concertina wire, screaming to get in, sometimes clashing with Taliban fighters.
“We intend to evacuate those who have supported us for years, and we will not leave them behind,” General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference on Wednesday. “And we’ll get the most out of it.”
But neither he nor Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III would ensure safe passage to the airport, even for Americans, because he said all American troops there were needed just to secure the airport.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the unrest following the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. They used brutal public punishment, including flogging, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more about their origin story and their track record as rulers.
“I do not currently have the opportunity to expand the business to Kabul,” said Mr. Austin.
The events of the past few days have brought a chaotic end to an ultimately failed 20-year attempt by the United States and its allies to defeat the Taliban and transform Afghanistan into a stable, democratic state.
The Biden administration has been harshly criticized for failing to anticipate the government’s rapid fall and evacuating earlier, but the president defended himself in the ABC interview.
“The idea that somehow there’s a way out without causing chaos, I don’t know why,” Biden said.
On Wednesday, Representative Gregory W. Meeks, a New York Democrat and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said that U.S. troops should stay after President Biden’s Aug. 31 withdrawal date if necessary to get vulnerable people out.
Canada, Britain and the United States have each said they plan to take in tens of thousands of Afghans, but the process is slow. Stung by the fallout from the 2015-16 migrant crisis, many European leaders have shown little interest in hosting Afghans fleeing the country.
Ghani, whose location was unknown until Wednesday, said he faced certain death at the hands of the Taliban, citing the fact that they hanged a former president, Mohammad Najibullah, in a public square after taking Kabul in 1996. . rumored to have left with a fortune in cash, he said, “I only came with my clothes and I wasn’t even able to take my library with me.”
Mr Ghani, 72, looked tired and said he was determined to return to Afghanistan and that he was in contact with his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, and Abdullah Abdullah, the former government’s chief negotiator, who were in talks with the Taliban.
Taliban leaders have pledged to defend a free press and women’s rights, but to what extent remains unclear.
On Tuesday, the Taliban’s chief spokesperson held a press conference, attended by female journalists, and was faced with difficult questions, while another spokesman gave a televised interview to a female reporter.
But Ms Van Buren, from the United Nations, said it was very difficult to get a clear picture of how women were treated across the country. In some places, the Taliban prevented women from going to work or home unescorted, she said, but in others there were no reports of such restrictions.
On Wednesday, Shabnam Dawran, a woman who anchors a TV news show on the state-owned RTA channel, said Taliban fighters had prevented her from applying for work in Kabul.
“Despite a valid ID, I was not allowed to”, she said in a video on social media. “Most of my male colleagues were able to enter with their ID cards, but they warned me that you are not allowed in and that you are not allowed to work because the regime has changed. These are major challenges ahead of us. If the international community hears my voice, they must help us because our lives are under serious threat.”
Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall, Jim Huylebroek, Eric Schmitt, Marc Santora, Andrew E. Kramer, Matthew Rosenberg, Helene Cooper, Isabella Kwai, Rick Gladstone, and Farnaz Fassihi.