The world heard Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid promise yesterday that the Taliban would respect women’s rights, not let Afghanistan become a haven for terrorism, and forgive those who fought against it. But even as Kabul Airport is once again open and running, beatings and blockades at Taliban checkpoints surrounding the airport undermine such assurances.
Kabul Airport Open, But Perimeter Checkpoints Keep Travelers Out
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Taliban “erected checkpoints at the entrances to the airport, whipping and beating Afghans who attempted to cross.” For a regime that has promised amnesty for those who once opposed it, it appears the new government has a list of names that it is intently searching for. Airport access roads are deliberately targeted as such people are those mostly likely to attempt to leave the nation.
The job of the Taliban is made easier by the layout and roads leading to Hamid Karzai International Airport. When I was in Kabul, I experienced multiple checkpoints leading to the airport and there was only one main airport access road…precisely to defend against Taliban and other forces from breaching the airport perimeter. Now the Taliban can use the limited points of egress and regress to control movement.
Thousands of Afghans who worked for western governments remain trapped in Kabul, even as the U.S. intensifies its Kabul Airlift operations and other nations send in planes in order to evacuate personnel and refugees.
Already, this has severely compromised rescue attempts, with a German Airbus A400M Atlas departing Kabul with only seven passengers onboard yesterday.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan noted assurances from the Taliban that civilians would be allowed safe passage to the airport, but that does not seem to be case at least thus far. “We intend to hold them to that commitment,” said Sullivan, but it isn’t clear how.
Sullivan further sought to downplay the chaos of the last two days:
“When a civil war comes to an end with an opposing force marching on the capital, there are going to be scenes of chaos, there are going to be scenes of people leaving the country.That is not something that can be fundamentally avoided.”
Thus far, the United States has re-located 3,200 people, including 1,200 U.S. citizens and 2,000 Afghans granted immigrant visas for the USA.
Up to 15,000 U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan and the plan is to evacuate them and Afghans who supported U.S. efforts in an airlift operation capable of transporting up to 9,000 passengers per day.
But getting to the airport is a whole different mater. Reports across Taliban strongholds include:
- summary executions of government soldiers
- forced marriages between women and Taliban fighters
- unprovoked attacks on civilians
All of these accounts underscore the difficulty of even reaching the airport safely.
We should know later today whether the checkpoints will be tightened or loosened. In the meantime, thousands of Afghans wait apprehensively, unsure of whether they will even make to the airport. Meanwhile, flights depart with open seats.