Kabul (AFP) – The Taliban warned on Monday there would be “consequences” if the United States and its allies extend their presence in Afghanistan beyond next week, as chaos continued to overwhelm Kabul airport with tens of thousands of people still desperate to flee.
To oversee a chaotic airlift of foreigners and Afghans desperate to escape the return of the hardline Islamic regime, thousands of troops have poured back into Afghanistan and pressure is growing on Washington to extend an August 31 withdrawal deadline.
But the Taliban Monday showed no willingness to compromise, with spokesman Suhail Shaheen telling Sky News that staying beyond the agreed deadline would be “extending occupation”.
“If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no… there would be consequences,” he said.
Two Taliban sources, meanwhile, told AFP the group would not announce the makeup of its government or cabinet until the last US soldier has left the country.
The rush to leave Kabul has sparked harrowing scenes and killed at least eight people, some crushed to death and at least one person after falling off a plane.
The German defence ministry said Monday an Afghan man was killed and three others injured in a dawn firefight between local guards and unknown assailants.
German and American troops “participated in a further exchange of fire”, it said in a statement.
The Taliban, infamous for an ultra-strict interpretation of sharia law during their initial 1996-2001 rule, have repeatedly claimed to be different this time and declared an amnesty for government forces and officials.
But an intelligence document for the United Nations said militants were going door-to-door hunting former government officials and those who worked with US and NATO forces.
‘Pain and loss’
President Joe Biden has insisted he wants to end the US military presence and airlifts by the end of the month.
But with the European Union and Britain saying it would be impossible to get everyone out by then, Biden is under pressure to extend the deadline.
Germany said on Monday it was in talks with NATO allies and the Taliban to keep Kabul airport open for evacuations beyond August 31, while France voiced “concern” over the deadline, saying “additional time is needed to complete ongoing operations”.
Speaking at the White House on Sunday, Biden said negotiations were under way to explore the possibility of extending the deadline.
He also acknowledged the tragic scenes at the airport, which have included babies and children being passed to soldiers over razor-wire fences and men clinging to the outside of departing planes.
He said, however, they were part of the cost of departure.
“There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see,” he said.
The Pentagon on Monday said about 16,000 people were evacuated over the past 24 hours from Kabul airport, taking to 37,000 the number relocated since the intense airlift operations started on August 14.
‘Peace and calm’
In the capital, the Taliban have enforced some sense of calm in a city long marred by violent crime, with their armed forces patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints.
Visually, they have also been looking to stamp their authority, ensuring the tri-coloured national flag is replaced with their white banner.
At a roadside in Kabul on the weekend, young men sold Taliban flags, which bear in black text the Muslim proclamation of faith and the regime’s formal name: “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.
“Our goal is to spread the flag of the Islamic Emirate throughout Afghanistan,” said seller Ahmad Shakib, who studies economics at university.
- Resistance –
Outside of Kabul, there have been flickers of resistance against the Taliban.
Some ex-government troops have gathered in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital — long known as an anti-Taliban bastion.
The Taliban said Monday their fighters had surrounded resistance forces holed up in the valley, but were looking to negotiate rather than take the fight to them.
Taliban fighters “are stationed near Panjshir”, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, adding the group was trying to resolve this issue peacefully”.
The announcement follows scattered reports of clashes overnight, with pro-Taliban social media accounts claiming gunmen were massing, and Afghanistan’s former vice president Amrullah Saleh saying resistance forces were holding strong.
One of the leaders of the movement in Panjshir, named the National Resistance Front, is the son of famed anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.
The NRF is prepared for a “long-term conflict” but is also still seeking to negotiate with the Taliban about an inclusive government, its spokesman Ali Maisam Nazary told AFP in an interview on the weekend.
With government offices still mostly closed, many Afghans are worried about being paid — but the Taliban announced the appointment of a central bank governor Monday to keep the wheels of finance moving.
Civil servants were told at the weekend, however, that they wouldn’t get their salaries until a new government was formed.