More than 18,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since the Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital, a NATO official said on Friday, pledging to redouble evacuation efforts as
criticism of the West’s handling of the crisis intensified. Thousands of people, desperate to flee the country, were still thronging the airport, the official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters, even though the Taliban have urged people without legal travel documents to go home.
The speed with which the Islamist militant Taliban conquered Afghanistan as US and other foreign troops were completing their withdrawal surprised even their own leaders and has left power vacuums in many places.
The Taliban called for unity ahead of Friday prayers, the first since they seized power, calling on imams to persuade people not to leave Afghanistan amid the chaos at the airport, protests and reports of violence.
Residents in Kabul and four other major cities said prayers appeared to have passed off with incident, though attendance was low.
A witness told Reuters several people were killed in the eastern city of Asadabad on Thursday when Taliban militants fired on a crowd demonstrating their allegiance to the vanquished Afghan republic, as the Taliban set about establishing an emirate.
There were similar shows of defiance in two other cities — Jalalabad and Khost — in the east, with Afghans using celebrations of the nation’s 1919 independence from British control to vent their anger with the Taliban takeover.
Another witness reported gunshots near a rally in Kabul, but they appeared to be Taliban firing into the air.
Kabul has been largely calm, except in and around the airport where 12 people have been killed since Sunday, NATO and Taliban officials said.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in an interview with NBC News that the United States was “laser-focused” on “the potential for a terrorist attack” by a group such as Islamic State during the evacuation.
Criticism of NATO and other Western powers has risen as images of the chaos and desperate fear of Taliban rule were shared around the world.
In one scene captured on social media, a small girl was hoisted over the airport’s perimeter wall and handed to a US soldier.
On Thursday, G7 foreign ministers called for a united UN international response to prevent the crisis from worsening, in comments echoed by countries including Russia.
China said the world should support, not pressure, Afghanistan.
A Norwegian intelligence group said in a report the Taliban had begun rounding up Afghans on a blacklist of people linked to the previous administration or to US-led forces that supported it. Complaints by some Afghan journalists have cast doubt on assurances that independent media would be allowed.
A US lawmaker said the Taliban were using files from Afghanistan’s intelligence agency to identify Afghans who worked for the United States.
“They are methodically ramping up efforts to round those folks up,” said Representative Jason Crow, who has been leading efforts in the US Congress to
The governments of Germany and Australia have also faced calls to do more and speed up the evacuation of citizens and vulnerable Afghans.—Reuters