At least 20 people have died in the past seven days in and around the Kabul airport during the evacuation effort after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Some of them have been shot and beaten; others were trampled to death in a stampede to escape the Taliban in their flight to freedom.
Britain's defence ministry said seven Afghans were killed in the crush around the airport on Saturday as thousands of people desperately scrambled to get a flight. Among those crushed was a toddler.
Yet, by Sunday morning, the number of people at the airport awaiting flights had swelled to 18,500, with another 2,000 at the gates waiting to get in, a source told CNN. In the chaos, there were instances of families being split up and sent to different countries. ‘‘They've had cases where mum, dad, and children all end up in different countries," said the source.
The US Department of Defence is now mobilizing commercial airline flights to help with the United States' evacuation efforts. However, the planes will not fly to Hamid Karzai International airport, but instead will "be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases," the Pentagon said in a news release.
The Taliban fired in the air and used batons to make people line up in orderly queues outside Kabul airport on Sunday. Panicked Afghans have tried to get on flights abroad, fearing reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law the Sunni Muslim group exercised when it was in power two decades ago.
The United States and other foreign countries including Britain have brought in several thousand troops to manage the evacuations of foreign citizens and vulnerable Afghans, but have stayed away from the outside areas of the airport. "Our forces are maintaining strict distance from the outer areas of the Kabul airport to prevent any clashes with the Taliban," the NATO official said. A Taliban official said on Sunday that "we are seeking complete clarity on foreign forces' exit plan."
"Managing chaos outside Kabul airport is a complex task," the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
Of late, there are night-time surges with Taliban firing in the air to scare the crowd. ‘’Please, get us out of here. The situation is very bad, we are trapped in a hell,’’ is the common refrain.
According to the Daily Mail, US military planes have been making rapid, diving combat landings at Kabul airport, while aircraft have fired flares on take-off, in a bid to confuse possible heat-seeking missiles amid a new, perceived threat from the Islamic State group affiliate in Afghanistan.
The withdrawal has strained relations between Britain and the US, with Tony Blair - who was in Downing Street when London sent troops into Afghanistan 20 years ago in the wake of 9/11 - accusing Joe Biden of deciding to pull out with 'little or no consultation', branding the move 'imbecilic'.
Blair says the US decision to leave has “every Jihadist group round the world cheering”. In a lengthy essay posted on his website late Saturday, Blair said the decision to withdraw troops was “tragic, dangerous, unnecessary”. He added that Britain has a “moral obligation” to stay until “all those who need to be are evacuated”.
Meanwhile, Taliban leaders Mullah Baradar and Siraj Haqqani have arrived in Kabul to form a new government.
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