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The Pentagon said it had ordered U.S. civilian airlines to help move Afghan refugees out of U.S. bases in the Middle East, as Western forces struggled to evacuate locals a week after regaining control by the Taliban.
Lloyd Austin, U.S. Secretary of Defense, activated the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet to provide commercial aircraft to support evacuation efforts from temporary shelters, allowing military aircraft to focus on flights to and from Kabul International Airport.
US carriers including American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta, United, Omni Air and Hawaiian Airlines will provide a combined total of 18 aircraft, the Pentagon said.
Thousands of Afghans desperate to leave the country were still crowded around Kabul International Airport on Sunday, but were unable to enter the area controlled by US forces.
The Taliban, who control the entry points on the civilian side of the airport, set up checkpoints leading to the transport hub and, according to witnesses cited by Reuters, fired in the air and used batons to try to manage the crowds. A NATO official said at least 20 people had died in and around the airport in the past seven days.
A person briefed on the evacuation process said it was nearly impossible for people to enter the airport unless they had a diplomatic escort provided by Qatar, which maintains relations with the United States and the United States. Taliban.
Qatar has transported thousands of people to the airport and resumed operations over the weekend after suspending them on Friday due to security concerns.
Christian Nellemann, executive director of the Rhipto-Norwegian Center for Global Analyzes in Norway, said that while the Taliban appeared to let Westerners pass through checkpoints, they were preventing Afghans from passing.
” They are looking for. . . especially for members of the Afghan security services, which means they are targeting high priority targets, ”he said.
“What we fear is that once the evacuation of Westerners is completed, they will begin to bring people together in a more systematic way.”
The United States issued a warning on Saturday telling its citizens not to travel to Kabul airport unless instructed otherwise. US officials have also warned of the growing risk of terrorist attacks launched by the Afghan branch of the terrorist group Isis, which launched a rocket attack on the presidential palace in Kabul last month.
The Taliban recaptured Kabul a week ago after a blitz across the country, regaining control for the first time since being ousted by the 2001 US invasion that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Afghans who were part of ousted President Ashraf Ghani’s government as well as security forces, activists and journalists said they were threatened by Taliban fighters, who went door to door looking for collaborators. Ghani fled the country before the Taliban took control.
Taliban leaders, including co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kabul over the weekend with the aim of forming a new administration. Hamid Karzai, former Afghan president, and former peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah pushed for an inclusive government that reflects the country’s ethnic diversity and for roles in the new administration.
Karzai and Abdullah met with senior Taliban officials, including those of the Haqqani Network, a Taliban affiliate closely linked to Pakistani intelligence services, with the aim of reaching a power-sharing deal.
Additional reporting by Andrew England and Helen Warrell in London