Biden pledges evacuation support, Taliban push back crowds at airport
- The United States moves thousands every day – Biden
- Britain calls for G7 sanctions against Taliban – sources
- Thousands of people still outside the airport hoping to be evacuated
KABUL / WASHINGTON, Aug.22 (Reuters) – The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring at-risk US citizens and Afghans out of Afghanistan, President Joe Biden said as Taliban fighters pushed back thousands desperate to flee outside Kabul airport on Sunday.
Biden said the security situation in Afghanistan was changing rapidly and his administration had no illusions about the threat from ISIS militants in Afghanistan, known as ISIS-K (for Khorasan).
The Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan last week as the United States and its allies withdrew their troops after a 20-year war, fired in the air and used batons to force people to queue outside the airport, witnesses said. Seven Afghans were killed in a crash at the gates on Saturday.
A NATO official said at least 20 people had died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampede, witnesses said.
“Be clear, the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be difficult and painful” and would have been “regardless of when it started,” Biden said at a White House briefing.
“We have a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong.”
Biden said he asked the State Department to contact Americans stranded in Afghanistan by phone, email and other means, and that the United States planned to move them to the airport.
“We are executing a plan to move groups of these Americans to safety and to move them safely and efficiently to the airport compound. For safety reasons, I won’t go into detail… but I will say again today what I said before: any American who wants to go home will go home. “
Western Afghan allies and vulnerable Afghans such as activists and journalists would also be helped, he said.
On Sunday, there were no serious injuries as armed men pushed back the crowd, witnesses said. The Taliban had been “cooperative” in expanding the perimeter of the airport, Biden said.
When asked by a reporter if the United States would extend the August 31 deadline for evacuations, Biden replied, “Our hope is that we don’t have to extend, but there are going to be talks, I guess. , on the progress of the process. “
The United States on Sunday asked for help from six commercial airlines to transport people after they were evacuated from Afghanistan. Biden said people were assisted by more than two dozen countries on four continents.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday called a virtual meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven Rich Nations to “ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people”.
Britain plans to push world leaders to consider further sanctions against the Taliban at the G7 meeting, sources told Reuters. Biden said he would support the effort, depending on the conduct of the Taliban.
Panicked Afghans have tried to board flights from Kabul since last weekend, fearing retaliation and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law that the Sunni Muslim group exercised while in power two decades ago.
Taliban leaders, who have sought to show a more moderate face since the capture of Kabul, have started talks on forming a government.
They face opposition from forces in northern Afghanistan, who over the weekend said they had captured three districts near the Panjshir Valley.
Anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Massoud said on Sunday that he hoped to hold peaceful talks with the Islamist movement but that his forces in Panjshir – remnants of army, special forces and militia units – were ready to go. to fight.
“We want to make the Taliban understand that the only way forward is negotiation,” he said. “We don’t want a war to break out.”
The Taliban said hundreds of their fighters were heading towards the Panjshir, showing a video on Twitter of a column of captured trucks bearing the Taliban’s white flag but still bearing their government marks moving along a highway.
The United States and other countries, including Britain, sent several thousand troops to help evacuate foreign citizens and at-risk Afghans from Kabul, but were careful to avoid clashes with the Taliban.
A Taliban official said: “We are looking for complete clarity on the exit plan for foreign forces.”
Taliban Politburo spokesman Mohammed Naeem told Saudi TV Al Hadath that talks are underway with the United States and other countries. He said that Al Qaeda was not present in Afghanistan and that the Taliban had no relationship with him.
Afghans who fled last week have expressed their desperation to leave loved ones behind. “It was very difficult to leave,” a veiled woman told Reuters in Qatar. “I love my country.”
The World Health Organization and UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, have requested a humanitarian airlift to bring aid to Afghanistan to help more than 18 million people in the need.
US Army Major General William Taylor said on Saturday that the United States evacuated 17,000 people, including 2,500 Americans, from Kabul last week.
On one of the flights, an Afghan woman gave birth on board moments after landing at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Saturday, the U.S. Air Force said on Twitter. The woman gave birth to a baby girl in the hold of a C-17 aircraft. Both mother and baby were in good condition, according to the tweet.
Reporting from the Kabul office, Rupam Jain, Idrees Ali, Simon Lewis, Andrea Shalal, Susan Heavey; Written by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Clarence Fernandez, Raissa Kasolowsky, Giles Elgood, Grant McCool and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Jan Harvey, Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney
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