Evacuation flights out of Kabul resume after Taliban took Afghanistan

Evacuation flights out of Kabul resume as soldiers restore order at airport after desperate Afghans had rushed planes and eight had been killed in chaotic scenes

  • Evacuations restarted from Kabul airport today, with French troops loading up diplomats in the early hours 
  • Airport was closed when thousands of Afghans desperate to escape the Taliban rushed on to the runway 
  • US troops laid barbed wire to protect the tarmac on Monday evening as heavily armed vehicles waited nearby
  • US and UK are hoping to evacuate some 40,000 people – including embassy staff, troops, visa holders, and allies they have promised sanctuary to in an operation that could last a month

Military evacuation flights have resumed from Kabul airport this morning after thousands of Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban were cleared off the runway.  

French troops were pictured standing guard alongside a military transport in the early hours as their embassy staff and allies formed an orderly queue to board – in stark contrast to just a few hours earlier when an American plane was rushed by hundreds of Afghans, some of whom clung to the outside and fell to their deaths as it took off.

On Monday evening, US troops were pictured laying barbed wire around the runway while soldiers laid on the ground between armoured vehicles with their machine-guns trained on crowds of Afghans who stood nearby.

Officials at the airport said numbers had since thinned out as many of those who arrived at the airport hoping to push their way on board a plane out of the country had wandered away.

That means that evacuation flights can resume – with at least 40,000 needing to be evacuated, mostly US embassy staff, but also including UK citizens, troops, visa holders, and allies that have been promised sanctuary.

America is hoping to airlift some 5,000 people per day out of Kabul and the UK 1,200 in an operation that is set to last at least a month – assuming the runway can be protected and all those due to be rescued can be reached.

French troops are pictured guarding a military transport plane at Kabul airport in the early hours of Tuesday as evacuations resume after thousands of desperate locals were cleared off the runway

French troops help load their embassy staff, visa holders and other allies they have promised sanctuary to on to a military transport plane in the early hours of Tuesday

David Martinon (centre left), the French ambassador to Afghanistan, waits with French and Afghan nationals to board a French military transport plane at the airport in Kabul

French nationals and their Afghan colleagues line up to board a French military transport plane at the Kabul airport

A French national sleeps on the floor at Kabul airport early on Tuesday as he waits with other diplomatic staff to board a flight out of Kabul airport as evacuations resume

French and Afghan national sit amongst their luggage as they wait to board a flight out of Kabul – one of dozens that will shuttle tens of thousands of people out of the country in the coming weeks

French soldiers stand guard as French nationals and their Afghan colleagues wait to board a military transport plane at the airport in Kabul

The Taliban, which is now in control of 90 per cent of the country, has also encircled the airport with their own armoured vehicles seized from government forces while urging people to return home – promising amnesty for former government employees.

American diplomats have spoken face-to-face with Taliban leaders who pledged that the evacuation will be allowed to proceed unhindered, though few are willing to take the Islamists at their word.

Despite the airport runway being secured, witnesses reported gunshots coming from the area overnight. Streets elsewhere in Kabul appeared calm.  

U.S. forces took charge of the airport, their only way to fly out of the country, on Sunday, as the militants were winding up a dramatic week of advances across the country with their takeover of the capital without a fight.

Flights were suspended flights for much of Monday, when at least five people were killed, witnesses said, although it was unclear whether they had been shot or crushed in a stampede.

Media reported two people fell to their deaths from the underside of a U.S. military aircraft after it took off, crashing to their deaths on roofs of homes near the airport.

A U.S. official told Reuters U.S. troops had killed two gunmen who had appeared to have fired into the crowd at the airport.

Despite the scenes of panic and confusion in Kabul, U.S. President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces after 20 years of war – the nation’s longest – that he described as costing more than $1 trillion.

But a video on Monday of hundreds of desperate Afghans trying to clamber onto a U.S. military plane as it was about to take-off could haunt the United States, just as a photograph in 1975 of people scrambling to get on a helicopter on the roof of a building in Saigon became emblematic of the humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam.

Biden insisted he had to decide between asking U.S. forces to fight endlessly in what he called Afghanistan’s civil war or follow through on an agreement to withdraw negotiated by his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump.

‘I stand squarely behind my decision,’ Biden said. ‘After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there.’

Facing a barrage of criticism, from even his own diplomats, he blamed the Taliban’s takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled and its army’s unwillingness to fight.

The Taliban captured Afghanistan’s biggest cities in days rather than the months predicted by U.S. intelligence, in many cases after demoralised government forces surrendered despite years of training and equipping by the United States and others.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the hasty pullout of U.S. troops had a ‘serious negative impact, ‘ China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported, adding that Wang pledged to work with Washington to promote stability.

Blinken also spoke on Monday with counterparts in Pakistan, Russia, Britain, the European Union, Turkey and NATO about ensuring regional stability, the State Department said.

U.S. Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson dismissed in a Twitter message what he called false reports that he had left the country, saying he and staff remained and were helping thousands of U.S. citizens and Afghans. 

Video shows hundreds of refugees running onto the C-17 on Sunday night before it took off. There are thousands of desperate Afghans still on the ground in Kabul 

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country on Sunday as the Islamist militants entered Kabul, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed.

The U.N. Security Council called for talks to create a new government in Afghanistan after Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of ‘chilling’ curbs on human rights and violations against women and girls.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said she was ‘deeply concerned’ and called for world leaders to take urgent action. She urged Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to open their country to refugees.

Former Afghan faction commander and prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said he would travel to Doha on Tuesday to meet a Taliban delegation, accompanied by former President Hamid Karzai and former foreign minister and peace envoy Abdullah Abdullah, Al Jazeera TV reported.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices. During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as public stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Dunya News that the group would improve the security of Kabul and ‘respect the rights of women and minorities as per Afghan norms and Islamic values’.

Shaheen added the new regime would ensure representation of all ethnicities and that the Taliban were keen to work with the international community to rebuild the country.

Shaheen said on Twitter that the group’s fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone.

‘Life, property and honour of no one shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen,’ he said.

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