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Seven Afghan civilians have been killed around Kabul international airport as western forces struggled to evacuate people from the country, one week after the Taliban retook control.
The deaths came as criticism of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan intensified. Tony Blair, who as UK prime minister ordered UK forces into the country 20 years ago, branded President Joe Biden’s justification for the pull out “imbecilic”.
Blair said the withdrawal was “tragic” and “unnecessary”, in his first public remarks since Kabul fell to the Taliban. He said in a statement that the US decision to abandon Afghanistan had been taken “with every jihadist group around the world cheering”, adding that the UK had a “moral obligation” to help evacuate and give sanctuary to Afghans.
He described the US exit deal with the Taliban signed under former US president Donald Trump as “replete with concessions” and driven “not by grand strategy but by politics”.
Blair’s condemnation followed frenzied scenes in Kabul, with Taliban fighters blocking desperate Afghans and foreign personnel from reaching Kabul airport.
Thousands of Afghans desperate to leave the country have crowded around Kabul’s airport, but are unable to enter the area controlled by US forces. The Taliban, which controls entry points to the civilian side of the airport, has set up checkpoints leading to the transport hub and have reportedly fired in the air and used batons in an attempt to manage the crowds.
A person briefed on the evacuation process said it is almost impossible for people to get into the airport unless they have a diplomatic escort provided by Qatar, which has relations with the US and the Taliban. Qatar has transported thousands of people to the airport, and resumed its operations over the weekend after suspending them on Friday because of security concerns.
Top Taliban leaders, including co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kabul over the weekend with the goal of forming a new administration.
The speed of the Taliban offensive and the shock capitulation of Kabul has left foreigners and Afghans associated with western powers at risk of retributive attacks by the Taliban and other terror groups.
While the US put out an advisory statement on Saturday telling its citizens not to go to the airport unless instructed otherwise, officials have warned of the growing risk of terror attacks launched by the Afghan affiliate of the Isis terror group, which last month launched a rocket attack on the presidential palace in Kabul.
In the week since the Taliban seized power, Afghans who were part of Ashraf Ghani’s government and security forces, activists and journalists have reported being threatened by Taliban fighters, who have gone on a door-to-door manhunt searching for collaborators.
The Taliban recaptured Kabul a week ago after a lightning offensive across the country, taking back control for the first time since they were ousted by the 2001 US invasion that followed the 9/11 terror attacks. During its time in power, the Islamist group enforced a brutal theocracy, depriving women of their rights and enforcing a medieval form of justice with public executions. It also allowed Islamist extremist groups to flourish in the country.
Since Ghani fled the country, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai and ex-peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah have been pushing for an inclusive government that reflects the ethnic diversity of the country and to potentially secure roles in the new administration.
Karzai and Abdullah have been meeting senior Taliban officials, including those from the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate with close ties to Pakistan’s intelligence service, in an attempt to strike a power-sharing deal.
Ahmad Wali Massoud, the brother of a slain Afghan warlord from the anti-Taliban bastion of Panjshir valley, has warned of a broad civil uprising if the militants do not agree to a deal. But following the Taliban’s rapid offensive across the country, analysts say political opponents have little leverage to force concessions and may struggle to mobilise a war-weary population.
Additional reporting by Andrew England and Helen Warrell in London
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