Afghanistan: Thousands of Afghans desperate to leave their country

At least 12 Afghans have been killed in and around the Kabul airport since Sunday’s Taliban takeover while trying to flee, raising questions of a need for a humanitarian corridor to the country's main exit point. The US says it has airlifted 7,000 people out since Saturday. Meanwhile, G7 foreign ministers have called on the international community to unite in its response to the crisis. Late Thursday, a third French flight of Kabul evacuees since the Taliban took over landed in Paris.

21:30 Paris time (GMT + 2)

  • Third French flight of Kabul evacuees arrives in France

A third French aircraft carrying some 200 people evacuated from Kabul in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan landed in Paris on Thursday via the United Arab Emirates.

The flight was carrying "more than 200 people, including French nationals and in large majority Afghan nationals," an Interior Ministry statement said, in French. The plane touched down at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris.

The passengers were offered physical and mental health support as well as material assistance, the statement indicated. Accelerated procedures were deployed to issue third-country nationals with visas. The first Afghans brought to safety in France after their country fell to the Taliban over the weekend arrived on Wednesday.


The Afghans who were exfiltrated have been taken into the care of the French Office of Immigration and Integration (Ofii) and the NGO France Terre d'Asile, which have declined to provide details on the location of their accommodations.

Those exfiltrated had been escorted, after a sensitive French forces operation, from France's embassy in Kabul to the city's airport, where they boarded an A400M aircraft bound for a French military base in the UAE. The operation, dubbed Apagan, mobilised two French Air Force planes on the Kabul-UAE leg and two more for the onward flights to France.

"The situation in Kabul is still complex. All the State services concerned and the French Embassy on the ground remain fully mobilised to ensure further flight rotations as soon as possible," the Interior Ministry statement said.

18:15 Paris time (GMT + 2)

  • G7 calls for international 'shared mission' to limit Afghanistan crisis

G7 foreign ministers called on Thursday for the international community to unite in its response to the crisis in Afghanistan to prevent it from escalating further, a statement issued by British foreign minister Dominic Raab said.

"The G7 Ministers call on the international community to come together with a shared mission to prevent the crisis in Afghanistan escalating," said the statement, issued by Raab following a meeting of G7 foreign ministers.


Britain currently holds the rotating leadership of the G7, which also includes the United States, Italy, France, Germany, Japan and Canada.

"The crisis in Afghanistan requires an international response including intensive engagement on the critical questions facing Afghanistan and the region: with the Afghans most affected, parties to the conflict, the UN Security Council, the G20, international donors, and with Afghanistan’s regional neighbours," the statement said.

17:30 Paris time (GMT + 2)

  • Pentagon says US has airlifted 7,000 people from Afghanistan since Saturday

The United States has airlifted out of Afghanistan some 7,000 people fleeing the Taliban takeover of the country, a top general said Thursday.

Since the US seized the Kabul airport and started evacuations on August 14, "we have airlifted approximately 7,000 total evacuees", Major General Hank Taylor told a Pentagon briefing.

He said a total of nearly 12,000 people have been moved out of Afghanistan since the end of July when the US began speeding up departures as the Taliban swept through the country ahead of a US military withdrawal.

"This increase is reflective of both a ramp-up of aircraft and airlift capability, faster processing of evacuees and greater information and fidelity in reporting," Taylor said.


He said that the 5,200 US troops sent to the airport had secured multiple gates, helping improve access as vast throngs of people look to escape the Taliban takeover.

Over the past 24 hours, the US flew 13 C-17 transport planes in to Kabul and flew 12 of them out, bringing out more than 2,000 people, he said.

The Biden administration has vowed to airlift all US citizens out of Afghanistan and as many Afghans as possible amid fears of Taliban retribution against those who assisted the 20-year war.

The administration says that the Taliban has cooperated on giving safe passage for US citizens but has impeded some Afghans seeking to head to Hamid Karzai International Airport.


16:00 Paris time (GMT + 2)

  • UNESCO appeals for protection of Afghanistan's cultural heritage

The United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, called for the protection of Afghanistan's cultural heritage and to ensure a safe environment for artists, days after the Taliban swept to power in Kabul.

Afghanistan is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Bamiyan Valley, where the Taliban blew up two giant Buddha statues before the Islamist group was ousted from power in 2001.

"Amid the rapidly unfolding events, and 20 years after the deliberate destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, a World Heritage site, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay calls for the preservation of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage," UNESCO said in a statement on Thursday.

>> Learn more: Guimet Museum in Paris brings Bamiyan Buddhas back to life, 20 years on

UNESCO said Afghanistan's diverse heritage and cultural sites were an integral part of Afghan history and identity, and of importance for humanity as a whole.

"It is crucial for the future of Afghanistan to safeguard and preserve these landmarks," UNESCO said.


15:30 Paris time (GMT + 2)

  • Taliban say they are facilitating safe exit of foreigners, Afghans

The Afghan Taliban are "keeping their word" by providing foreign powers with their full support in evacuating their nationals from Kabul airport, a Taliban official said on Thursday.

"We are facilitating safe-exit passage not just for foreigners but also to Afghans," the official told Reuters.

"We are preventing any form of violent, verbal clash at the airport among Afghans, foreigners and Taliban members."

Flag-waving protesters took to the streets of more Afghan cities on Thursday as popular opposition to the Taliban takeover spread, and a witness said several people were killed when the militants fired on a crowd in Asadabad in the east.

12:10 Paris time (GMT + 2)

  • Afghan with decades of family service to French embassy desperately trying to leave Kabul

An Afghan national, who FRANCE 24 is not naming for security reasons, recounted the ordeal of trying – and failing – to reach the Kabul airport over the past few days. He said there were crowds around the airport even at 2am in the morning when he tried getting out of Afghanistan. “The Taliban has checkpoints and they are questioning people. They’re not stopping you, but the problem is more than 10,000 people have surrounded the airport and it is really, really impossible to get to the gate of the airport, security forces are firing into the air” to try to control the crowd, he said.

The Afghan citizen said he was trying to seek asylum in France since he has worked with French institutions in Afghanistan, his father worked with the French embassy in Kabul for 48 years before retiring, and his brother – a French embassy driver – was killed in 1992 during the mujahideen civil war while trying to ferry equipment from the French embassy to the German embassy in Kabul.

Although he applied for French asylum in April, the Afghan man said that so far, he has only been told that his case, and his family’s case, is under review. Sunday’s rapid fall of Kabul to the Taliban has put the lives of many Afghans who served with US and European missions in Afghanistan in danger. The slow bureaucratic process of trying to get asylum contrasts sharply with the rapid US troop withdrawal and the fall of Afghanistan to Taliban control, putting Afghan lives at risk.


11:14 

  • Son of assassinated anti-Taliban resistance hero asks US for weapons

The son of Afghanistan's most famed anti-Taliban fighter says he has the forces to mount an effective resistance, but called on the United States to supply arms and ammunition to his militia.

In an op-ed published Wednesday in The Washington Post, Ahmad Massoud said "America can still be a great arsenal of democracy" by supporting his fighters.

"I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father's footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban," he said.

His father Ahmad Shah Massoud, known as the Lion of Panjshir, led the strongest resistance against the Taliban from his stronghold in the valley northeast of Kabul until his assassination in 2001.

Hoping to follow in his "father's footsteps", Massoud said he has been joined by former members of the country's special forces and soldiers from the Afghan army "disgusted by the surrender of their commanders".

Massoud is in his Panjshir stronghold with Afghanistan's First Vice President Amrullah Saleh who has claimed on social media that under the Afghan constitution, in the “absence, escape, resignation or death” of the president, the first vice president becomes the “caretaker president”. Saleh said he was “reaching out to all leaders to secure their support and consensus" on his claim to a caretaker presidency.

10:09 

  • There’s no such thing as 'soft Talibanism', says French official

French Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune said there would be "no recognition" of the Taliban regime and called for a continuation of the "political process" in Afghanistan.

"There is no political contact, there will be no complacency, no connivance of any kind with the Taliban regime. There’s no such thing as soft Talibanism,” said Beaune in a Thursday morning interview with Franceinfo.

"Unfortunately the Taliban has won a military victory in Afghanistan. There is a political process that has been going on between Afghans for a number of months and which we can only hope will continue," he said.

"We have the worst [scenario] in Afghanistan today. If there were other political factions than the Taliban in the government … the situation would not be so bad," he explained.

10:01 

  • EU’s Josep Borrell brands events in Afghanistan 'a catastrophe and a nightmare'

The European Union's foreign policy chief branded developments in Afghanistan "a catastrophe and a nightmare" on Thursday, and said there had been a failure of intelligence to anticipate the Taliban's return to power there.

Addressing the European Parliament on Thursday, Josep Borrell said about 100 EU staff and 400 Afghans working with the EU and their families had been evacuated, but that 300 more Afghans were still trying to leave.

He stressed Europe had a "moral duty" to rescue as many Afghans as possible who had worked for the EU in Afghanistan, but said it would not be possible to get them all out.

"Let me speak clearly and bluntly, this is a catastrophe," Borrell said. "It is a catastrophe for the Afghan people, for the Western values and credibility, and for the developing of international relations."

07:47 

  • The deadly route to Kabul airport

While military evacuations out of Afghanistan have stepped up four days after Kabul fell to Taliban control, the access to the Hamid Karzai International Airport has turned into a majority security challenge for Afghans trying to flee. At least 12 people have been killed in and around the airport since Sunday, according to Taliban and NATO officials.

The deaths were caused either by gun shots or in stampedes, a Taliban official told Reuters on Thursday. He urged people still crowded at the gates of the facility to go home if they did not have the legal right to travel.

Despite reports of Taliban fighters blocking Afghans from reaching the airport, Taliban officials insist they are not hindering access, but attempting to control crowds. "We don't want to hurt anyone at the airport," said the Taliban official, who declined to be identified.


  • US carriers can conduct evacuations with Defence Department approval

In a statement released late Wednesday, the FAA said that without prior approval, US carriers cannot fly over Afghanistan airspace or fly into Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport. The FAA cited "a lack of high altitude air traffic control services".

All relief flights into Kabul "must have permission" from the Defence Department, the FAA said.

Without prior approval, US passenger and air carriers are prohibited from flying over nearly all of Afghanistan, the FAA said, adding it does not apply to Defence Department operated flights.

There are no indications yet that the Defence Department will use US carriers as part of the massive planned evacuation effort of thousands of people.

  • Reports of Taliban stopping some Afghans from reaching Kabul airport

Armed members of the Taliban have been stopping Afghans from reaching the Hamid Karzai International Airport, according to witnesses. 

Afghans who arrived in Germany Wednesday said Taliban members prevented people from getting into the airport compound, including those with the necessary documents to travel.

An Afghan national who previously worked for the French government told FRANCE 24 that the security situation on the route to the airport was a problem. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the former French government employee said the reports of the situation on the ground was terrifying – “anything can happen”, he explained.


Many Afghans are in hiding, awaiting a chance to reach the airport, amid reports of traumatic scenes on the road to the airport.

Video clips of desperate Afghans trying to reach the airport are circulating on social media sites with at least one report of US troops at the airport not allowing a US-Afghan national access into the Hamid Karzai International Airport, according to the New York Times.


Photos of an Afghan translator being treated for gunshot wounds sustained while trying to reach the airport were published on SBS News Australia Thursday. 

  • Images of women defaced as Afghans succumb to life under Taliban

Images of women have been covered up or vandalised on storefronts around Kabul, as signs of a public calm across Afghanistan mask the fear and terror inside Afghan homes, particularly for women.

Shops in Kabul began painting over faces of women on advertisements over the weekend as the Taliban closed in on the capital.

The AFP featured a photo, taken Wednesday, of a Taliban fighter patrolling a Kabul street with walls defaced with black spray paint to conceal the visages of female models.

AFP - WAKIL KOHSAR | A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced in Shar-e-Naw in Kabul on August 18, 2021.
AFP - WAKIL KOHSAR | A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced in Shar-e-Naw in Kabul on August 18, 2021.

The Taliban have publicly stated that women can work and study according to “Islamic law”. In the absence of clarity, the situation on the ground is fraught with inconsistencies, sparking a overwhelming sense of insecurity – particularly for Afghan women.

While Afghanistan’s leading private news station Tolo TV featured a female anchor earlier this week, on the state Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA), a prominent female anchor was replaced by a Taliban official reading official statements.


  • Second French evacuation flight from Kabul lands in Paris

The second group of Afghans to be flown out of Kabul by France after the Taliban’s seizure of power arrived at Paris’s Charles-de-Gaulle airport on Wednesday.

An air force plane carrying more than 200 passengers, with 25 French citizens and a majority of Afghans including a large number of women and children, landed shortly before 17:00 GMT.

In a message posted on Twitter Thursday, French Ambassador to Afghanistan David Martinon said French police escorted the French, Afghan and international families out of Kabul's green zone. The French embassy has been working out of the airport since Monday. 


France’s Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) and the association Terre d’Asile will provide care for the flight’s Afghan passengers, but both declined to provide details of their accommodation.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Text initially published on: France 24

 

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