Washington/U.S. – The United States and Germany on Saturday told their citizens in Afghanistan to avoid travelling to Kabul airport, citing security risks as thousands of desperate people gathered trying to flee almost a week after Taliban Islamist took control.
The Taliban’s co – founder, Mullah Baradar, arrived in the Afghan capital for talks with other leaders on Saturday. The group is trying to hammer out a new government after its forces swept across the country as U.S. – led forces pulled out, with the Western – backed government and military collapsing.
Crowds have grown at the airport in the heat and dust of the day over the past week, hindering operations as the United States and other nations attempt to evacuate thousands of their diplomats and civilians as well as numerous Afghans. Mothers, fathers and children have pushed up against concrete blast walls in the crush as they seek to get a flight out.
The Taliban urged those without travel documents to go home. At least 12 people have been killed in and around the single – runway airfield since Sunday, when the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, NATO and Taliban officials said.
‘Because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do as’, a U.S. Embassy advisory said.
The Government Embassy also advised its citizens not to go to the airport, warning in an email that Taliban forces were conducting increasingly strict controls in its immediate vicinity.
The advisories underscored just how unsettled the security situation remains. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the American military is looking at alternative routes for people to reach the airport because of threats from militant groups such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Army Major General William Taylor, with the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, told a Pentagon briefing that 5,800 U.S. troops remain at the airport and that the facility ‘remains secure’. Taylor said some gates into the airport were temporarily closed and reopened over the past day to facility a safe influx of evacuees.
A Taliban official, speaking to Reuters, said security risks could not be ruled out but that the group was ‘aiming to improve the situation and provide a smooth exit’, for people trying to leave over the weekend. The Taliban’s takeover has sparked fear of reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law the Taliban exercised when they were in power two decades ago.
Taylor said the United States in the past week has evacuated 17,000 people, including 2,500 Americans, from Kabul. Taylor said in the past day 3,800 people were evacuated on U.S. military and chartered flights.
Speaking a day after U.S. President Joe Biden promised to evacuate ‘any American who wants to come home’, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said he did not have a ‘perfect figure’ on how many U.S. citizens remain in Kabul and Afghanistan more broadly, though officials have indicated it is thousands.
Kirby declined to describe the specific ‘threat dynamics’ in Kabul but called the security situation ‘fluid and dynamic’.
‘We’re fighting against both time and space’, Kirby said.
Switzerland postponed a charter from Kabul because of the chaos at the airport.