The Taliban on Thursday urged crowds of Afghans waiting outside Kabul airport in the hope of fleeing the country to go home, saying they did not want to hurt anyone, a day after Taliban fighters fired at protesters, killing three, witnesses said.
The United States and other Western powers pressed on with the evacuation of their nationals and some of their Afghan staff from the airport on Afghanistan’s Independence Day, which could trigger more protests against the Islamists.
While Kabul has been generally calm since Taliban forces entered on Sunday after a week of stunning advances across the country, the airport has been in chaos as people rushed for a way out of Afghan capital.
Twelve people have been killed in and around the airport since Sunday, a NATO and a Taliban official said. The deaths were caused either by gun shots or by stampedes, the Taliban official said.
He urged people who do not have the legal right to travel to go home. “We don’t want to hurt anyone at the airport,” said the Taliban official, who declined to be identified.
About 8,000 people have been flown out since Sunday, a Western security official said. The U.S. military is in charge of the airport while Taliban fighters patrol outside its walled and fenced perimeter.
On Wednesday, witnesses said Taliban gunmen prevented people from getting into the airport compound.
“It’s a complete disaster. The Taliban were firing into the air, pushing people, beating them with AK-47s,” said one person trying to get out on Wednesday.
A Taliban official said commanders and soldiers had fired into the air to disperse the crowd. The situation was more calm on Thursday, witnesses said.
Under a pact negotiated last year by former President Donald Trump’s administration, the United States agreed to withdraw its forces in exchange for a Taliban guarantee they would not let Afghanistan be used to launch terrorist attacks.
The Taliban also agreed not to attack foreign forces as they left.
President Joe Biden said U.S. forces would remain until the evacuation of Americans was finished, even if that meant staying past a Aug. 31 U.S. deadline for withdrawal.
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The Taliban have been putting on a moderate face, saying they have changed since their 1996-2001 rule when they severely restricted women, staged public executions and blew up ancient Buddhist statues.
They now say they want peace, will not take revenge against old enemies and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.
But there are serious doubts about their assurances.