There have been reports of Taliban fighters attacking crowds in Kabul with rifle butts and periodically opening fire with automatic weapons

The desperation is palpable as the baby in the green dress is passed from hand to hand over the heads of a crowd packed too tightly to move.

Then someone raises another little girl to pass on to the British soldiers behind the barbed wire outside Kabul international airport. The crowd has one purpose, and one plea: take our children to safety if you cannot take us.


Meanwhile, Taliban fighters use captured American weapons to disperse another packed crowd of men, women, and children.  

They wade into the throng, thumping people with rifle butts and opening fire with automatic weapons – not in the air, but straight ahead and while taking aim.

Thousands of people who worked for Western armed forces over the past 20 years have rushed to Kabul airport since Sunday, hoping for a place on one of the military transport planes that every so often roar into the blue summer sky.

They have been encouraged by promises from British, American, and other Western governments that none of their former allies would be left behind to face the wrath of the Taliban.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said on Thursday that “most” of those cleared for evacuation were making it to the airport and evacuation flights.

More than 500 British nationals, Afghans on the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy resettlement scheme and third-country nationals were flown out of Kabul on RAF transport aircraft on Thursday, while the US state department said 6,000 people were processed and waiting to board flights.

A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said: “The Government’s priority remains facilitating the return of British Nationals and those eligible to relocate to the UK as safely and quickly as possible.

“UK military personnel are helping to maintain security at the airport in Kabul to allow hundreds of eligible people to safely depart every day.”

Terror and confusion

But thousands more are trapped between the barbed wire and concrete airport perimeter and a confusion that has seen many being turned away despite being cleared for travel.

“We have all these documents but now we have been here for eight hours in this crowd,” said Masoud Zamani, displaying passports with UK visas for himself and his parents. “Will we get inside the airport?”


Others, including women and children, spent nearly 24 hours outside after being told by Western authorities they were cleared to fly.

“There are tons of people waiting outside the civilian camp. They just sent the same email to everyone to come here because there is a flight today,” said one local UN employee sitting among hundreds of women and children outside the airport’s eastern gate late on Wednesday night.  

“But since 2pm everyone has been waiting outside. There are children and women and boys and girls but they are not letting anyone one in,” she added.

On Thursday morning, the woman, who had full US travel papers and had been told she was on the evacuation list, gave up. “They promised to open the door at 8am, but they didn’t open it. We are going home. No other choice,” she said.

Taliban fighters perched atop captured American Humvees and wearing the fatigues of the Afghan army they defeated only days ago watched over growing crowds surrounding the airport on Thursday afternoon.

Young children ran down gridlocked streets, selling water and fruit to the hundreds trapped in cars, while women in abayas struggled to pull suitcases through a passageway filled with hundreds of people.

Taliban fighters exert control

Men used their scarves to wipe the sweat off their faces as they watched young Taliban fighters loudly shouting at the crowd to “move back” in order to establish some kind of crowd control.

The militants were also on the lookout for cameras, running at anyone holding a mobile phone and interrogating them about why they were filming.

The Taliban’s approach to crowd control is thuggish, crude and has reinforced the determination of many Afghans here to escape the group’s brutal rule.

Afghans in Kabul

:One woman who works for Adam Smith International and was trying to flee after receiving death threats, called her sister to say the fighters were “throwing hot water” on the women waiting at the eastern gate of the airport.

Taliban control of the streets is the reality of the new Afghanistan, and British troops have no choice but to cooperate with the militants to keep the evacuation moving as calmly and smoothly as possible.

Paratroopers are standing just feet apart from the militants they previously fought with, separated by little more than barbed wire and vehicles.

For now, the uneasy partnership mostly functions. But that could change at any time.


Desperate times, desperate measures

The mission is currently expected to wrap up at the end of the month, the date US president Joe Biden originally set for full withdrawal. Mr Biden indicated on Wednesday that he might be willing to extend the American deployment, but that would be dependent on Taliban patience.

For the desperate crowds at the airport gate, and thousands of others still in hiding in Kabul, that question could be the difference between life and death.

Rumours are circulating in Kabul that the Taliban are searching houses and have set up checkpoints to arrest escaping government officials, interpreters, or simply people who had been employed by foreign organisations.


One former Nato interpreter who worked for 10 years with British, German, and Canadian forces told The Telegraph he had applied for evacuation with all three countries, but has yet to receive an answer.  

In the meantime he remains in hiding at home in Kabul, debating whether to risk taking his family to the airport and trying to bargain their way in on the strength of a letter from a British officer he once worked with.

He knows it would be a high-stakes gamble.


“I just heard they have beaten my relatives who wanted to get out by plane at the airport,” he said. “They were called for evacuation by the US, but the Taliban did not allow them to get in.

“They are fighters and do not say the reason, their job is to not let the people go out. They might have this order from their leadership.” (Daily Telegraph-London)


CREDIT: Rahmat Gul/AP

By Roland Oliphant, SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT;Suddaf Chaudry IN KABUL and  Ben Farmer


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