Another Afghan evacuation flight leaves as UN warns of Taliban ‘reprisals’

KABUL (AFP): A second charter flight left Afghanistan carrying foreigners and Afghans in a sign the country’s main airport was close to resuming commercial operations, as the United Nations warned of “credible allegations” of reprisal killings by the Taliban.
The plane departed for Qatar the day after just over 100 passengers, including some Americans, left Kabul airport on the first flight carrying foreigners out of the Afghan capital since a US-led evacuation ended on August 30. Another 32 US citizens or permanent residents left Afghanistan with Washington’s support, either on the Qatar Airways flight or by land, National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said.
“Today’s departures demonstrate how we are giving Americans clear and safe options to leave Afghanistan from different locations,” Horne said in a statement. “We will continue to provide proven options for leaving. It is up to Americans who remain whether they choose to take them.”
Of the 158 passengers who arrived in the Qatari capital Doha, 49 were French nationals and their families, with a Qatari official adding there were also German, Canadian, Dutch, British, Belgian and Mauritanian citizens on board. The official added that their safe transport to Kabul’s airport in a Qatari convoy was also coordinated by the Gulf state, which was already the transit point for about half of the 123,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan as the pro-Western government crumbled and the Taliban took over.
The White House said the Taliban had been “businesslike and professional” in allowing flight to leave, but the United Nations envoy for Afghanistan warned the group may be targeting perceived enemies. “We are also concerned that despite the many statements granting general amnesties… there have been credible allegations of reprisal killings,” envoy Deborah Lyons said in New York.
She said Afghan security officials and people who worked for the previous administration were at risk. Unconfirmed reports in the capital, meanwhile, suggested the Taliban may hold a ceremony to swear in the new government on Saturday — the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks that triggered the end of their first stint in power. As news of a resumption in evacuation flights spread, some people gathered at the airport gates, pleading with Taliban guards to get in.
“If I can’t go just kill me!” said one woman, among a group of women and children each carrying backpacks. Many Afghans in the capital are fearful of a repeat of the hardline Islamist group’s brutal and repressive rule from 1996-2001. The Taliban have already begun to segregate men and women students and medical staff, suggested women will be banned from playing sports, and unveiled an all-male government drawn exclusively from loyalist ranks.
The UN education agency UNESCO warned in a report that Afghanistan risks backsliding on nearly two decades of schooling gains for children, especially girls, due to a projected rise in the number of internally displaced people, new Taliban-imposed restrictions on women’s education and the withdrawal of international aid, which makes up half of the country’s education expenditures. Afghanistan’s economy also risks a likely sharp contraction, said former central bank chief Ajmal Ahmady, who fled the country just after Kabul fell to the Taliban in mid-August.
“I don’t want to say economic collapse, but I think it’s going to be (an) extremely challenging or difficult economic situation,” he said in a discussion hosted by The Atlantic Council, predicting GDP would shrink by 10 to 20 percent. He said international sanctions that block aid funding and restrict access to $9 billion in reserves also could create a shortage of domestic currency.
More than 100 passengers were on the Qatar Airways flight that landed in Doha, 10 days after the chaotic airlift came to a dramatic close with the US pullout. In the days that followed the Taliban’s blitz, the airport had become a tragic symbol of desperation among Afghans terrified of the militants’ return to power — with thousands of people crowding around its gates daily, and some even clinging to jets as they took off.
More than 100 people were killed, including 13 US troops, in a suicide attack on August 26 near the airport that was claimed by the Islamic State group’s local chapter. Qatar has said it worked with Turkey to swiftly resume operations at Kabul’s airport to allow the flow of people and aid.
The Taliban have repeatedly claimed they would not seek revenge against those who worked with the previous regime — and all Afghans would be granted free passage out of the country when commercial flights resume. The militants have pledged a more moderate brand of rule, however, they have shown clear signs that they will not tolerate opposition. Earlier this week, armed Taliban militants dispersed hundreds of protesters, sometimes by firing shots into the air, in cities across Afghanistan. They also moved to snuff out any further civil unrest, saying protests would need prior authorisation from the justice ministry and no demonstrations were allowed “for the time being”.