KABUL: At least seven people died amid scenes of mayhem at Kabul airport on Monday as thousands of civilians tried to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.
Among the dead were people who clung on to a US Air Force C-17 transport plane as it taxied across the runway, and who plunged to the ground after the aircraft took off.
US troops fired warning shots into the air as hundreds of people ran across the tarmac toward planes. A crowd pushed and shoved their way up a mobile staircase in a desperate attempt to board an aircraft, with some people hanging off the railings.
Western countries have rushed to fly out diplomatic and other staff, but there was anger in the airport when the US halted evacuation flights to clear people from the tarmac. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said US forces were working with international troops to clear the airport and enable evacuation flights to resume. He said several hundred people had been flown out so far.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin authorized the deployment of another battalion to Kabul that would bring the number of US troops guarding the evacuation to about 6,000.
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Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said its fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone.
“The life, property and honor of no one shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen,” he said.
Mohammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, said the form of Afghanistan’s new government would be made clear soon.
He said the Taliban did not want to live in isolation and called for peaceful international relations.
Saudi Arabia urged the Taliban to abide by “Islamic principles.” The Foreign Ministry said: “The Kingdom stands with the choices that the Afghan people make without interference. Saudi Arabia hopes that the Taliban movement and all Afghan parties will work to preserve security, stability, lives and property.”
However, many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices. “Everyone is worried,” said a former government employee in hiding in Kabul. “They’re not targeting people yet but they will, that’s the reality. Maybe in two or three weeks, that’s why people are fighting to get out now.”
The speed at which the Taliban took control has provoked widespread criticism of US President Joe Biden for setting a date for withdrawing US forces.
“If President Biden truly has no regrets about his decision, then he is disconnected from reality when it comes to Afghanistan,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said.
Republican Representative Jim Banks said: “We have never seen an American leader abdicate his responsibilities and leadership like Joe Biden has. He’s in hiding. The lights are on at the White House, but nobody’s home. Where is Joe Biden?”
However, Biden was defended by Jim Messina, a White House deputy chief of staff under Barack Obama.“We’ve been there 20 years. It’s America’s longest-running war, it is time to get out,” he said. “Why should American troops be fighting a civil war that Afghan troops this week refused to fight for themselves? It was time to get out.”