The Taliban said on Tuesday that they would block Afghans trying to leave the country from travelling to Kabul’s airport and would reject any plans to extend the deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this month.
Hours later, President Joe Biden told world leaders gathered virtually for a meeting of the Group of 7 nations that he was aiming – for now – to get American troops out of Afghanistan by his Aug. 31 deadline, citing a high risk of terrorist attack, a senior administration official said. But the president said there was still a possibility of extending that mission, the official said.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, noted that chaos at the airport remained a dangerous problem, and said the way to it was being closed to Afghan citizens to prevent people from joining the crowds.
“The road that ends at the Kabul airport has been blocked,” Mujahid said. “Foreigners can go through it, but Afghans are not allowed to take the road.”
He did not say how long that policy would be in effect, but Mujahid did urge the crowds of Afghans thronging the airport in hopes of leaving the country to go home. He said the Taliban would “guarantee their security.”
Witnesses, however, have described a Taliban crackdown on those who protest against the militants. The Taliban is also actively seeking out Afghans who worked alongside U.S. and NATO forces.
Mujahid called on the United States “to not encourage Afghan people to flee their country,” and said, “This country needs our doctors, engineers and those who are educated – we need these talents.”
Biden’s deadline for the U.S. evacuation of its citizens and allies in Afghanistan is one week away. The operation could enter a dangerous new phase as time runs out to rescue people whom the administration has pledged to protect from Taliban reprisals.
The effort has picked up speed in recent days as U.S. forces pushed past Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to rescue stranded people in the city, evacuating thousands. But chaotic and deadly scenes have also played out as crowds of Afghans eager to leave the country have converged on the airport.
People trying to flee Afghanistan must brave Taliban checkpoints and jostle with desperate crowds, risking injury or death. Seven Afghan civilians, including a toddler, have been trampled to death in the crowds outside the airport, according to British military officials.
Other Afghans who supported the two-decade U.S. war effort, particularly women, are terrified to leave their homes, scared of incurring the Taliban’s wrath at checkpoints.
The Taliban and U.S. officials have taken steps to ensure that the situation does not spiral further out of control. The top U.S. official in Afghanistan talks with the Taliban nearly every day, U.S. military officials have said, leading to an agreement that expanded the security perimeter outside the airport, with the goal of bringing more order to the chaos.
The Pentagon has deployed helicopters and troops into select spots in Kabul to extract stranded U.S. citizens and Afghan allies, at least twice venturing from the immediate area of the airport.
The U.S. military has helped secure the evacuation of 58,000 people since Aug. 14, when Kabul fell to the Taliban, and has increased the pace recently. About 21,600 people were evacuated in the past 24 hours, military officials said Tuesday.
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