Chaos at Kabul airport continues as another seven Afghans killed in crowds
Thousands of Afghans rushed to Kabul airport in the hope of fleeing the country after the Taliban takeover. Photograph: Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times
Another seven Afghan civilians have been killed in the chaos surrounding Kabul’s international airport, the British military said on Sunday, showing the danger still facing those trying to flee the Taliban’s takeover of the country.
The deaths came as a new, perceived threat from the Islamic State group affiliate in Afghanistan has seen US military planes make rapid, diving combat landings at the airport surrounded by Taliban fighters.
Other aircraft have fired flares on take-off, in a bid to confuse possible heat-seeking missiles.
The changes came as the US Embassy issued a new security warning on Saturday, telling citizens not to travel to the airport in Kabul without individual instruction from a US government representative.
Officials declined to provide more specifics about the IS threat but described it as significant.
They said there have not yet been any confirmed attacks by the militants, who have battled the Taliban in the past.
On Sunday, the British military confirmed the deaths of seven civilians in Kabul.
There have been stampedes and crushing injuries in the crowds, especially as Taliban fighters fire into the air to drive away those desperate to get on any flight out of the country.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement: “Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible.”
Thousands of people rushed to the airport last Monday in chaotic scenes that saw the US trying to clear the runway with low-flying attack helicopters. Several Afghans plunged to their deaths while hanging off the side of a US military cargo plane.
It has been difficult to know the full scale of the deaths and injuries from the chaos.
The Biden administration is considering asking US commercial airlines to provide planes and crews to assist in transporting Afghan refugees once they are evacuated from their country by military aircraft.
Under the voluntary Civil Reserve Air Fleet programme, born in the wake of the Berlin airlift, civilian airlines add to military aircraft capability during a crisis related to national defence.
The US Transportation Command said on Saturday that it had issued a warning order to US carriers on Friday night about the possible activation of the programme. If called upon, commercial airlines would transport evacuees from way stations outside Afghanistan to another country or from Virginia’s Dulles International Airport to US military bases.
Meanwhile, the Taliban’s top political leader arrived in Kabul for talks on forming a new government.
The presence of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who returned to Kandahar from Qatar earlier this week, was confirmed by a Taliban official.
Baradar negotiated the militants’ 2020 peace deal with the US, and he is now expected to play a key role in negotiations between the Taliban and officials from the Afghan government that the militant group deposed.
Afghan officials familiar with talks held in the capital said the Taliban have said they will not make announcements on their government until the August 31st deadline for the US troop withdrawal passes.
Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official in the ousted government, tweeted that on Saturday he and ex-president Hamid Karzai met Taliban’s acting governor for Kabul, who “assured us that he would do everything possible for the security of the people” of the city. –PA