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Taliban largely seal off Kabul airport as airlift winds down

AP/Kabul, Afghanistan
Filed on August 28, 2021

New layers of checkpoints sprang up on roads leading to the airport.

The Taliban deployed extra forces around Kabul’s airport Saturday to prevent large crowds from gathering after a devastating suicide attack two days earlier, as the massive US-led airlift wound down ahead of an August 31 deadline.

New layers of checkpoints sprang up on roads leading to the airport, some manned by uniformed Taliban fighters with Humvees and night-vision goggles captured from Afghan security forces. Areas, where large crowds of people have gathered over the past two weeks in hopes of fleeing the country following the Taliban takeover, were largely empty.

A suicide attack on Thursday by a Daesh affiliate killed 169 Afghans and 13 US service members, and there are concerns that the group, which is far more radical than the Taliban, could strike again. The US military said it killed a Daesh militant early Saturday in a drone strike, after US President Joe Biden had promised swift retaliation.

Many Western nations have already completed their evacuation operations ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces.

An Afghan who had worked as a translator for the US military said he was with a group of people with permission to leave who tried to reach the airport late Friday. After passing through three checkpoints they were stopped at a fourth. An argument ensued, and the Taliban said they had been told by the Americans to only let US passport-holders through.

“I am so hopeless for my future,” the man told The Associated Press after returning to Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. “If the evacuation is over, what will happen to us?”

On Saturday, the Taliban fired warning shots and deployed some kind of colored smoke on a road leading to the airport, sending dozens of people scattering, according to a video circulating online that was consistent with AP reporting.

More than 110,000 people have been safely evacuated through the Kabul airport since the Taliban takeover, according to the U.S., including around 6,800 in the last 24 hours. But thousands more are struggling to leave and may not make it out by Tuesday.

In Kabul itself, hundreds of protesters, including many civil servants, gathered outside a bank while countless more lined up at cash machines. The protesters said they had not been paid for the past three to six months and were unable to withdraw cash. ATM machines are still operating, but withdrawals are limited to around $200 every 24 hours.

Later Saturday, the central bank ordered commercial bank branches to open and dispense up to $200 a day to customers, calling it a temporary measure.

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