International

Taliban cracks down on protests — and those seeking to leave


The Taliban on Wednesday faced the first known street protests against the militant group’s lightning-quick takeover of Afghanistan, and disorder again erupted near Kabul’s international airport, where weapon-carrying insurgents violently rebuffed Afghans trying to make their way inside to board outgoing flights.

Three days after having overrun the capital and chased President Ashraf Ghani into exile, the Taliban grappled with elements of basic governance, including a cash-flow crunch in this heavily aid-dependent country.

Ghani, 72, who had dropped out of sight since fleeing Kabul on Sunday, resurfaced in the United Arab Emirates, which announced his presence in a terse communique. The UAE is a close American ally.

The deposed president, a scholar and technocrat, is now widely reviled in his homeland for having slipped away as the Taliban closed in. He said he left to prevent bloodshed as the group’s fighters seized the country with almost no resistance from the U.S.-trained and -equipped military.

Although the Taliban was firmly in charge, with its fighters patrolling the capital in commandeered police and military vehicles, the movement has yet to declare a government.

Taliban representatives in Kabul have been having discussions with figures including former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, once designated as chief executive in a power-sharing agreement. The talks have brought former foes into close proximity; Karzai and Abdullah met Wednesday with Anas Haqqani, who heads a particularly notorious Taliban splinter group.

With so much in flux following the stunning reversals of recent days — the powerful U.S. military to be gone by month’s end, ragtag militia fighters patrolling the streets with automatic weapons slung from their shoulders — thousands of Afghans clung to hopes of making it out of the country.

The U.S.-overseen airlift was picking up pace, military officials said, but the number of those whisked away to safety was dwarfed by desperate throngs outside the airport, the sole American-controlled enclave in the country. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that in the past 24 hours, 18 Air Force C-17 transport planes had carried 2,000 people, including 325 Americans, out of Afghanistan.

With some 4,500 U.S. Marines and soldiers overseeing the effort, the military described operations inside the airport as progressing smoothly, but Kirby batted away questions about the chaos outside the gates, where some Afghanswere beaten or rebuffed by young fighters demanding documents as they tried to make their way inside.

A Taliban promise of “safe passage” to the airport for would-be evacuees, touted by the White House, appeared to apply mainly to foreigners, and not even always to them. Kirby, speaking to reporters, summed up the grim dynamic by acknowledging that U.S. forces who once dominated the landscape could do little to help people make their way through the perimeter.

“We’re not outside the airport,” he said. Referring to the Taliban, he said: “And they are.”

Refugee advocacy groups in the United States, meanwhile, prodded the Biden administration to do more to help trapped Afghans in danger from the Taliban because of their past ties to the U.S. military.

The New York-based nonprofit International Refugee Assistance Project filed petitions with the State Department on behalf of about 20,000 Afghan applicants for so-called Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs. Together with their families, they total about 100,000 people.

“We don’t know that there’s a clear plan at all to evacuate” them, said Becca Heller, the group’s executive director.

Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said plans were being made to temporarily house about 22,000 people, SIV recipients and their families, at U.S. military bases. That would accommodate about one-fifth of the estimated number still in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban promised not to exact reprisal from people who have opposed the group’s takeover, but some Kabul residents described armed men making unexpected visits to homes and compounds, asking whether anyone there had worked with the U.S. military, the government or with Western organizations.