Foreigners evacuated amidst Taliban threat in Kabul

The Taliban tightened their grip around Kabul in Afghanistan on Saturday, where the mood of residents and those fleeing the insurgents’ advance was grim as the United States and other Western countries prepared to evacuate their diplomats and citizens.

In just over a week, the Taliban seized control of almost the entire north, west and south of Afghanistan and reached the gates of Kabul. They are only 50 km from the capital and show no sign of wanting to slow down.

Heavy fighting also broke out on Saturday around Mazar-i-Sharif, capital of Balkh province, where the Afghan army carried out new air strikes. This commercial center is the only major city in the north of the country that the Taliban have not yet taken over.

Besides Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad (east), Gardez and Khost (southeast) are the only other major cities that are still controlled by the government. But being located in lands dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group, where the Taliban come from, they should not resist for long.

For Kabul residents and the tens of thousands of people who have fled their homes in recent weeks to take refuge in the capital, fear prevails. “I cry day and night when I see the Taliban forcing young women to marry their fighters,” said Muzhda, 35, a single woman who arrived in the capital with her two sisters after leaving Parwan province, a little further north. “I have rejected marriage proposals in the past (…) If the Taliban come and force me to marry them, I will kill myself,” he warns.

Dawood Hotak, 28, a merchant from Kabul, is also “worried about the future” of his younger sisters and does not know “what will happen to them.” “If the situation gets really bad, then who will leave Afghanistan again, like we did in the early 1990s?” He said.

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Many Afghans, particularly women, accustomed to the freedom they have enjoyed for the past 20 years, fear that the Taliban will return to power. When they ruled the country between 1996 and 2001, before being ousted from power by an international coalition led by the United States, the Taliban imposed their ultra-strict version of Islamic law.

Women were prohibited from going out without a male companion and working, and girls from going to school. Women accused of crimes such as adultery were flogged and stoned. “It is particularly horrifying and heartbreaking to see the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being taken away from them,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday.

A helicopter ballet took to the skies of Kabul this Saturday, between the airport and the US embassy, ​​a gigantic complex located in the ultra-fortified “green zone”, in the center of the capital. A first contingent of US Marines has arrived in the capital where their role will be to ensure the evacuation of diplomatic personnel, as well as Afghans who worked for the United States and fearing reprisals from the Taliban. The United States intends to evacuate “thousands of people a day” and for this the Pentagon will deploy 3,000 soldiers at the capital’s airport before the end of the weekend, its spokesman, John Kirby, said on Friday.

The US Embassy in Kabul ordered its staff to destroy sensitive documents and US symbols that the Taliban could use “for propaganda purposes.” London announced at the same time the redeployment of 600 soldiers to help British citizens get out.

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