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Chaos in Kabul as Afghans flee Taliban

August 17, 2021

Afghans scramble to the Kabul airport, which is being secured by US forces. The airport is the only way out for now as the Taliban encircled the capital. DW has the latest.

Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul Image: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images
  • The Taliban took control of the capital on Sunday
  • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled with no interim government in place
  • Flights were halted at Kabul airport as international troops were working to clear fields
  • Seven people died in Kabul airport chaos
  • Angela Merkel called the situation 'bitter, dramatic, terrifying'
  • The UN Security Council urged immediate end to hostilities 

This live updates article has now closed. This story was last updated at 00:06 (UTC/GMT).

UN: Accept Afghan refugees

Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres has called on "all countries" to take in refugees from Afghanistan and to cease all deportations of Afghans who are already in their countries.

His comments were made over Twitter. He added that the people of Afghanistan "deserve our full support."

German lawmaker fears return to the 'dark ages'

DW spoke to German lawmaker Alexander Graf Lambsdorff from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Bundestag's foreign affairs committee about Afghanistan's future.

"I fear that the country is going to slide back into the dark ages. That means that Germany will have to reduce relations with the country to a minimum," he said.

He also criticized the government for failing to take responsibility for the Afghans who worked with the Bundeswehr. At the same time, he called for a limit on the number of people given refuge in Germany.

"It's a moral failure of the German government not to have looked after the local employees. On the other hand, we do not have as Europe, as Germany, an obligation to take in all the refugees," the FDP politician said.

German evacuation plane leaves Kabul

Germany's Defense Ministry confirmed in a tweet that "the first A400M Bundeswehr aircraft has left Kabul airport again — the plane is now on its way to Tashkent, Uzbekistan with evacuees on board."

"Bundeswehr security forces remained on the ground in Kabul to prepare further evacuation flights," the ministry said.

US pledges to keep evacuating 'eligible individuals'

The US State Department raised the possibility of imposing sanctions on any future Afghan government that "does not recognize the basic and fundamental rights of the people of Afghanistan, importantly the fundamental rights of half the population, the women and girls," spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.

Price emphasized, however, that there has been no "formal transfer of power" to the Taliban, adding that the State Department is working with the international community regarding a political settlement in Afghanistan.

The State Department was also focused on continuing evacuation operations from Kabul airport.

"We will seek to maintain a presence on the ground at the Hamid Karzai International Airport for as long as it is safe to do so," Price said, adding that the top priority for the US government was the safety of US citizens as well as those who had worked with the military. "We will be working around the clock to relocate as many eligible individuals as we can," he said.

US return to operations at Kabul airport

Kabul airport reopened for operations early on Tuesday morning local time (19:35 UTC) after being closed for several hours, an official from the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General Hank Taylor, told reporters.

Disruptions on the runway had prevented further operations, the general said. He also announced that a C-17 transport aircraft had landed with US marines on board, to help secure the airport. A second plane carrying further soldiers was also on its way.

"Our focus right now is to maintain security at [Hamid Karzai International Airport], to continue to expedite flight operations while safeguarding Americans and Afghan civilians," Taylor said.

German rescue plane lands

One of the A400M German military transport planes has landed in Kabul. Its arrival had been delayed by crowds of people desperate to flee swarming the runway, forcing it to circle overhead for five hours.

The plane is carrying out a rescue mission to evacuate German citizens from the country. The German government has also promised to help locals who supported Germany's military operations. The plane will first take evacuees to Tashkent in Uzbekistan, from where they can take civilian flights to Germany.

Biden stands 'squarely behind' decision to withdraw

US President Joe Biden on Monday reiterated that his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was "the right decision."

"I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw forces," Biden said.

Biden insisted that the US "planned for every contingency" as he put the blame on Afghan forces. "Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country."

Biden's remarks come as he faces sharp criticism — domestically and internationally — over the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He cut short his planned vacation and returned to Washington on a helicopter from the Camp David presidential retreat.

US discusses crisis with Russia and China 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke separately with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi about the worsening situation in Afghanistan. 

Blinken did not provide any details about his calls. But Russia said Blinken and Lavrov discussed Moscow's outreach to different Afghan political forces to help "ensure stability and public order."

Washington and Moscow "agreed to continue consultations with the participation of China, Pakistan and other interested nations to establish the right conditions to begin an inclusive inter-Afghan dialogue under the new conditions," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.

Earlier on Monday, Russia said it stepped up contacts with the Taliban. 

Macron: Afghanistan must not become a terrorist 'sanctuary'

French President Emmanuel Macron Islamist militants will attempt to benefit from the turmoil in Afghanistan. 

"Afghanistan must not become the haven for terrorists that it once was," Macron said in a televised address from his summer residence.

Macron pledged that France would do all it could to ensure Russia, the US and Europe "cooperate efficiently as our interests are the same."

"Our actions will above all be aimed at fighting actively against Islamist terrorism in all its forms," he said. 

The French president said the European Union would set up an initiative to prevent the expected large flows of migrants after the Afghan crisis. 

"We must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows that would endanger the migrants and risk encouraging trafficking of all kinds," Macron said.

German rescue planes hampered from landing

Two German military transport planes have been unable to land because of chaos at Kabul airport.

One of the planes flew to Kabul on Monday afternoon, but was prevented from landing because of civilians on the airfield.

It was one of two aircraft that had already been held up after a refueling stop in Baku, Azerbaijan. After maintaining a holding pattern, the plane was then forced to fly to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, to refuel there.

"No flight movements can take place there at present, because there is a large number of desperate people on the tarmac," the German foreign office said, referring to the airport.

UN urges 'inclusive negotiations' to form new government 

The UN Security Council called for "inclusive negotiations" to establish a new government in Afghanistan that is "united, inclusive and representative, including with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women."

The 15-member body issued a press statement after an emergency meeting on the situation in Afghanistan. 

The council members also called for an immediate end to hostilities and human rights abuses and for all parties to allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.

Afghanistan's ambassador to the UN, Ghulam Isaczai, had told the emergency meeting that "there is no time for blame game anymore." 

Isaczai urged the Security Council — the UN's most powerful body — to call for an immediate halt to violence and to "prevent Afghanistan descending into a civil war and becoming a pariah state.''

Merkel: Taliban takeover 'an extremely bitter development' 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke about the situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control.

"This is an extremely bitter development. Bitter, dramatic and terrifying," Merkel said.

"I am thinking of the pain of families of soldiers who lost their lives fighting there," she said. "Now everything seems so hopeless."

Merkel's remarks came as Germany and several other countries scramble to evacuate their diplomatic personnel and local Afghan staff out of the main airport in Kabul.

She told reporters that efforts would be made to offer support and refuge, particularly for Afghan support staff who helped the German military.

Aid would also be given to neighboring countries such as Pakistan, where it is expected many refugees are likely to arrive.

UK calls for G7 meeting 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for leaders of the Group of Seven to discuss the developments in Afghanistan and prevent a humanitarian fall-out from the Taliban takeover.

Johnson's office said he "outlined his intention to host a virtual meeting... in the coming days," during a call with French President Emmanuel Macron. 

The British leader, whose country holds the rotating G7 presidency, stressed the need for a "unified approach" to the situation in Afghanistan, his office said.

US sending more troops to Kabul 

The Pentagon said the US has authorized the deployment of more troops to Kabul to help aid the evacuation mission. 

The AP news agency reported, citing Pentagon, that some 1,000 US soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan. 

International troops working to clear fields at Kabul airport 

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said all military and civilian flights have been halted at the Kabul airport after crowds of civilians surged out onto the runways. 

"US military forces are on the scene working alongside Turkish and other international troops to clear the area of people. We do not know how long this will take," Kirby said.

Kirby blamed the airport chaos on Afghanistan's leadership, much of which has already fled the country.

"You can resource, you can train, you can support, you can advise, you can assist. You cannot buy will, you cannot purchase leadership, and leadership was missing," he said.

US soldiers kill two armed men at Kabul airport 

US forces shot and killed two armed men at Kabul's airport, a defense official said. 

"In the thousands of people who were there peacefully, two guys who had weapons brandished them menacingly. They were both killed," the official told AP news agency on condition of anonymity. 

An official told Reuters news agency that armed assailants had fired into the crowd, citing initial reports.

The Pentagon later confirmed the incident, and said there were preliminary indications that one US service member had been wounded.

Heiko Maas: World 'misjudged' situation in Afghanistan

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas admitted that NATO allies underestimated the Taliban's speed in taking over Afghanistan. 

"There is no talking this up. All of us — the [German] federal government, the intelligence services, the international community — we misjudged the situation," Maas told a press conference in Berlin. 

"After the withdrawal of troops, we were certainly not in a position to assess that the Afghan armed forces were not ready to confront the Taliban," Maas said.

Maas said that of the 2,500 embassy personnel who had been identified previously for evacuation, 1,900 had already been brought to Germany. 


Russia says Taliban are 'restoring public order'   

Russia's Foreign Ministry said the situation in Kabul was "stabilizing," claiming that Taliban militants were "restoring public order." 

In a statement carried on Russia's state news agency RIA novosti, the ministry said it established contact with Afghanistan's "new authorities."  

"The Russian Embassy in Kabul continues to function normally. Working contacts have been established with representatives of the new authorities in order to ensure the security of the Russian mission abroad," the statement said. 

In a separate report, RIA Novosti quoted an official from the embassy alleging that Ghani fled with four cars and a helicopter full of cash. 

UN chief urges world not to 'abandon' Afghans

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the international community to unite to "suppress the global terrorist threat in Afghanistan."

Guterres appealed to the UN Security Council "and the international community as a whole to stand together, work together and act together."

The secretary-general urged all parties, especially the Taliban, "to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and to ensure that humanitarian needs can be met."

"We are receiving chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights throughout the country. I am particularly concerned by accounts of mounting human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan," Guterres told a US Security Council emergency meeting.

The UN still has staff and offices in areas now under Taliban control, and which have so far been respected, Guterres said. "Above all, we will stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need."

"We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan," he said.

Seven dead in Kabul airport chaos

US officials told AP news agency that seven people died amid the chaos at the Kabul airport, adding that some of them had fallen from a departing US military transport jet. 

What is the latest on evacuations?

Countries including the US, Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines and Sweden are involved in efforts to evacuate people out of Afghanistan.

Belgium is sending four aircraft to aid the evacuations from Kabul airport.  Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder said the decision was in light of the "very worrying situation in Afghanistan," according to a short statement from her cabinet carried on Belga news agency.

The Belgian Defense Ministry said Afghans who worked with Belgium would have the possibility to apply for visas in the European state, Belga reported, citing the same statement. 

Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi also assured that his country would "protect Afghan citizens who have worked with our mission."

"Italy is working with its European partners for a solution to this crisis that safeguards human rights, and in particular those of women," Draghi added. 

A military transport plane carrying about 50 Italian diplomats and 20 Afghans reached Rome in the afternoon. 

Switzerland's Foreign Ministry said the country's last three development agency workers in Afghanistan were airlifted on a US military plane. Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said on Twitter that "they are on their way to Switzerland."

"We are working very hard under the most difficult circumstances to evacuate local staff," he added.

Some 38 local employees of the office have not yet been able to leave Afghanistan. They and their families — 230 people in all — are getting Swiss humanitarian visas.

"The Afghan employees of the cooperation office could be viewed by the Taliban as Western collaborators and are therefore at risk of life and limb," the ministry said.

German army delays evacuation

The German military has reportedly had to delay its mission to evacuate German citizens and others from the Afghan capital Kabul.  

The DPA news agency cited sources saying that the arrival of two army A400M military transport planes was held up because they were unable to land because of the chaos unfolding at Kabul airport.

Dramatic scenes unfolded at the airport on Monday with footage of desperate people crowding the runways and trying to board flights.

Political analyst: Biden strategy 'one of the greatest failures'

Four successive US presidents need to take responsibility for the failure of the military intervention in Afghanistan, Jessica Berlin, a US political analyst based in Germany, told DW. However, Berlin said US President Joe Biden's handling of the withdrawal as particularly damaging for the Washington's reputation globally.

"By giving the Taliban a due date, an end date for the American presence, he basically made it possible for them to put up pressure in the knowledge that they would face no repercussions, because once the US had made the commitment to withdraw, all that was going to happen."

"From left and right across the political spectrum, people will see this as perhaps one of the greatest failures, not only of the Biden administration but in 21st century foreign policy so far."

Uzbekistan confirms downing Afghan jet

Uzbekistan’s defense ministry says an Afghan military jet was shot down after it crossed the border into the country. The plane crashed late on Sunday in Uzbekistan’s southernmost Surxondaryo province.

"Uzbekistan's air defense forces prevented an attempt by an Afghan military aircraft to illegally cross Uzbekistan's border," defense ministry spokesman Bahrom Zulfikorov said.

Merkel party chief: Withdrawal is NATO's 'biggest debacle' 

The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, Armin Laschet says the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan has unfolded badly.

"It is evident that this engagement of the international community was not successful. It is the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding and we're standing before an epochal change," said Christian Democrat party chief Armin Laschet. 

Iran: US 'military defeat' can 'restore life, security and lasting peace'

Iran's ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi said in a statement Monday, "The military defeat and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan should offer an opportunity to restore life, security and lasting peace in that country."

While the statement followed the Taliban's seizure of Kabul, neither the Taliban nor Kabul were mentioned.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was engaged in talks with Yue Xiaoyong, China's special envoy for Afghanistan. 

A foreign ministry spokesman said a skeleton staff remained at the Iranian embassy in Kabul but that employees had been evacuated from three of the five of Iran's diplomatic missions in other Afghan cities.

China hopes to have 'friendly and cooperative' relations with the Taliban

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing that China is ready to have "friendly and cooperative" relations with the Taliban. She did not answer directly whether China would recognize the Taliban as the new government but instead insisted China will respect the choice of the Afghan people.

Hua said, "The Taliban have repeatedly expressed their hope to develop good relations with China, and that they look forward to China's participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan."

She called on the Taliban to "ensure a smooth transition" of power and to uphold its promises of establishing an "open and inclusive Islamic government" and ensure the safety of Afghans and foreign citizens alike.

While China has come up short of recognizing the Taliban, a delegation of senior Taliban officials met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, China last month. 

The Talban promised Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militants, especially Uigyurs. In exchange, China offered economic support and investment for Afghanistan's reconstruction.

Merkel: Afghanistan's 'painful hours' 

In a meeting with her Christian Democrat (CDU) cohort in parliament Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told her party colleagues Afghanistan is experiencing "painful hours." The German government has dispatched a second and third military aircraft as it steps up evacuations. 

Merkel said Germany relies on US troops to hold and control the airport in Kabul to enable the evacuations of German and Afghan nationals who assisted German forces over the last 20 years. Consultations with the Americans suggest it may be possible to continue evacuations until August 31.

Merkel said that as many as 10,000 people may require evacuation.

She said her government would seek a mandate from parliament to deploy as many as several hundred soldiers to assist with the airlift. German troops are only permitted to deploy abroad with authorization from parliament.

The chancellor told party colleagues that Berlin would support Afghanistan's neighbors should they have to cope with an influx of refugees. 

Ultimately, Merkel acknowledged, the Taliban would control who gets to leave the country, the German press agency DPA reported.

Commercial flights out of Kabul are canceled

Commercial flights from Kabul were canceled Monday as Afghanistan's Civil Aviation Authority (ACAA) announced Kabul airspace had been released to the military. 

On its website, the ACAA announced the "civilian side of Hamid Karzai International Airport (Kabul airport) is closed until further notice."

Civilian aircraft over Afghanistan were advised to reroute because any transit through Kabul-controlled airspace, which includes all of Afghanistan, was likely to be uncontrolled.

In a message to reporters, the Kabul airport authority announced, "There will be no commercial flights from Hamid Karzai Airport to prevent looting and plundering. Please do not rush to the airport."

Lufthansa said all its flights would reroute to avoid Afghan airspace starting Monday. Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 showed commercial flights including an Air India flight from Chicago to Delhi and a Terra Avia plane traveling from Baku to Delhi had changed course to avoid an Afghan overflight.

Chaos at Kabul airport after the Taliban takes charge overnight

US troops securing the Kabul airport reportedly fired shots in the air Monday as chaotic scenes unfolded with Afghans scrambling onto the tarmac in the hopes of catching a flight out of the country after the Taliban took charge over night.

A correspondent with German public broadcaster ARD shared footage from the scene with audible gunshots.  

An official told Reuters, "The crowd was out of control," as hundreds of civilians ran onto the tarmac. "The firing was only done to defuse the chaos."

At this time, the airport is the only viable exit still available out of the country as many border crossings have been closed while others have fallen under Taliban control. 

German military transport takes off, bound for Kabul

Germany's Defense Ministry said early on Monday that the first A400M military transport plane had taken off from an airfield near Hanover, bound for Kabul, "to bring those in need of protection from Afghanistan to safety." 

On Twitter the ministry wrote, "What's clear: it is a dangerous mission for our troops." 

On a typical flight, an A400M has space for just over 100 passengers. The plane is supposed to bring back embassy staff, German citizens, and some Afghan staff fearing Taliban reprisals. Several flights are planned.

A Bundeswehr A400M taking off from an airfield near Hanover, bound for Kabul, August 16, 2021.
German officials and the military had faced criticism for failing to authorize the flight earlierImage: Hauke-Christian Dittrich/dpa/picture alliance

German media outlets, including Deutsche Welle, also published an open letter urging the government to establish an emergency visa scheme for journalists and other staff in the country.

Both France and Turkey say their evacuation flights will arrive Monday evening.

New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern calls on Taliban to respect human rights

At a press conference in Wellington, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on Taliban leaders to follow through on their stated commitments by allowing women to continue to work and let girls go to school. 

Ardern noted the situation on the ground deteriorated much faster than anticipated and said New Zealand would send a C-130 military aircraft and personnel to evacuate New Zealanders still in the country and the approximately 37 Afghans who worked alongside the New Zealand defense forces and their dependents.

Ardern said, "The whole world is watching. Taliban is making claims about the type of administration they wish to be. We would implore them to allow people to leave safely."

She conceded, "It's not a matter of trust — it's going to be all about the actions, not the words."

Afghan women fear dark days ahead as Taliban return to power

Sunday's events in brief: Taliban take control in Kabul as Ghani flees

On Sunday, hours after President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan, Taliban fighters entered the presidential palace according to footage shot by Al Jazeera. The flag on the US embassy was lowered as US diplomats were ferried to the airport by helicopter, including the acting ambassador.

Many cities and districts in Afghanistan fell with little fanfare in recent days as the Afghan security forces largely crumbled in the face of the insurgency. By Sunday, the Taliban were able to enter Kabul with little to no resistance.

The Taliban's rapid advances have effectively coincided with the withdrawal of NATO troops from the country, almost 20 years after the US-led invasion to topple the Taliban in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks.