Thousands of Afghans crowded the tarmac of Kabul airport on Monday morning in a desperate attempt to get out of the country after the Taliban militant group seized power.
US forces at the airport were forced to fire into the air to restore calm.
“I am very scared. They are firing shots in the air. I saw a young girl being run over and killed,” a witness told AFP.
Footage released on social media by journalists at the scene reveals scenes of desperation as people jostled in the hope of securing a place out of the country.
It comes less than a day after Taliban insurgents entered the capital after sweeping the country in a power-grabbing operation that has surprised Western countries by its swiftness.
A Taliban spokesperson and negotiator told the Associated Press news agency that the militant group is holding talks aimed at forming an “open, inclusive Islamic government” in Afghanistan.
Earlier, a Taliban official said the group would announce a new government from the presidential palace, but those plans appear to be on hold.
The United Nations Security Council has announced that it will hold an emergency meeting on Monday at 16:00 CEST to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. The European Union’s Political and Security Committee will meet an hour earlier by videoconference with Belarus also on the agenda.
‘Horrifying and heartbreaking’
The Taliban sought to project calm on Monday, circulating videos on its official social media accounts of fighters deployed throughout Kabul.
The posts said the fighters were deployed to “provide security” to Kabul residents. One said “the general public is happy with the arrival of the Mujahideen and satisfied with the security.”
Spokesman Suhail Shaheen also stressed that fighters had been instructed not to enter anyone’s house without permission”.
He also rejected accusations that single women were being forced to marry Taliban fighters as “poisonous propaganda.”
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 with a harsh form of Islamic law. Women were largely confined to their homes and suspected criminals faced amputation or public execution.
According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, more than 1,000 people have been killed or injured in the past month alone “in indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”
At least 241,000 were forced to flee their home as the Taliban advanced through the country.
“I am also deeply disturbed by early indications that the Taliban are imposing severe restrictions on human rights in the areas under their control, particularly targeting women and journalists. It is particularly horrifying and heartbreaking to see reports of the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away from them,” Guterres said last week.
More than 70 countries, including most European union member states, the UK and the US, have meanwhile urged the group to “respect and facilitate” evacuations of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country.
Washington intends to have enough aircraft to fly out as many as 5,000 civilians a day, both Americans and the Afghan translators and others who worked with the U.S. during the war.
France’s Minister for Armed Forces, Florence Parly, said two military planes would from Monday fly back and forth between Kabul and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to evacuate people.
A group of 70 Italian diplomatic staff and Afghans who have worked with Italy boarded a military evacuation flight in Kabul late Sunday night. It is expected to arrive in Rome at 12:00 CEST after stopping in Kuwait.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis also announced on Monday that the country’s first evacuation flight had taken off from Kabul’s international airport with 46 people on board. They included Czech nationals, the Afghan staffers at the Czech embassy and Afghan interpreters who helped the Czech armed forces during NATO missions together with their families.
A German military aircraft bound for Kabul left Wunstorf Monday morning to support the evacuation of German embassy personnel and local staff from Afghanistan.
“The aim of the mission is to bring German nationals, Afghan local staff and others to be protected by Germany,” the Defence Ministry said.
However, it is unclear how long Kabul’s deteriorating security would allow any evacuations to continue.
A spokesperson for the Taliban said on Twitter: “We assure all embassies, diplomatic missions, institutions and residences of foreign nationals in Kabul that there is no danger to them.”
Airlines avoid Afghan airspace
The flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 showed on Monday morning that commercial passenger flights were avoiding flying over Afghanistan.
British Airways confirmed to Euronews on Monday morning that it is “not currently using Afghanistan’s airspace.”
Air France also confirmed to Euronews on Monday that it has been rerouting flights to avoid Afghan airspace.
“Air France is constantly monitoring the current geopolitical situation in Afghanistan and the territories served and flown over by the airline’s aircraft,” it said in a statement.
“Flight plans are adjusted in real-time according to the decisions of the French and regional authorities, in order to ensure the highest level of flight safety,” it added.
Virgin Atlantic said in an emailed statement to Euronews that “following the latest situation reports in Afghanistan, we will be re-routing our upcoming services to avoid Afghanistan’s airspace.”
Its flights to Pakistan and India typically overfly Afghanistan.
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