Taliban block Kabul's airport, as foreign airlifts wane

As the U.S. and its allies shut down an airlift to end Taliban forces' 20-year-old war in Afghanistan, Taliban forces closed Kabul's airport to Afghans seeking evacuation.

Taliban block Kabul's airport, as foreign airlifts wane

The Western leaders recognized that withdrawing would leave behind some of their citizens as well as many locals who had helped them over the years. They pledged to work with the Taliban to allow their local allies to flee after President Joe Biden's Tuesday deadline.

The U.S. had planned to continue its round-the-clock flight operations until the deadline. It claimed that 117,000 people had been evacuated from Kabul since August 15th, when the Taliban took control of Kabul. Biden warned Saturday that commanders had told him another attack was "highly likely in the next 24-36 hours."

Britain was completing its last evacuation flights on Saturday. However, Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, promised to "shift heavens and earth" in order to bring more people at risk from Taliban attacks to Britain through other means.

Laurie Bristow (Britain's ambassador in Afghanistan) said in a video posted from Kabul airport that it was time to end this phase of the operation.

He said, "But we haven’t forgotten the people still need to go," We will continue to do all we can to assist them. We have not forgotten about the Afghan people, who are brave and decent. They are entitled to live in security and peace.

As the flow of planes leaving Kabul slowed, others arrived in locales around the world carrying Afghans who managed to secure places on the last evacuation flights, including in the Washington area, Philadelphia, Madrid, Birmingham, England, among others. While some were relieved and eager to start their new lives away from the Taliban, others were disappointed.

Spanish journalist Shabeer Ahmadi (29 years old) claimed that the United States had destroyed the efforts he and others had made to make Afghanistan a better country by allowing insurgent groups to reclaim power.

Ahmadi stated that they had abandoned the new generation in Afghanistan.

Turkish media reported that an evacuation flight to Britain arrived with an additional passenger after the cabin crew gave birth mid-air to a baby girl. Her parents named her Havva (or Eve) and she was at most the fourth child to be born to Afghan mothers during evacuation flights.

Meanwhile, families of Afghans killed in Thursday's suicide bombing at the airport by an Islamic State group affiliate continued burying their dead -- at least 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members died in the attack. Belal Azfali (36-year-old contractor who was working on a U.S. project) was among those who were killed. He had been alone to the airport without his wife. According to relatives, his remains were so badly disfigured that it was impossible for anyone to identify him except by picking up the repeated calls from the cellphone that he carried with him.

The U.S. on Saturday released the names of the 13 Marines, Navy and Army personnel who were killed in the bombing. One of them was Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee (23), who was seen cuddling Afghan infants that they had temporarily saved from the chaos outside the airport gates.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, claimed that some Taliban forces held positions in the airport and were ready for peaceful control as American forces flew away. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, denied this claim.

The Taliban did deploy extra forces outside of the airport to prevent large crowds from gathering in the wake of Thursday's bombing . 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. The areas where people had gathered in hopes of fleeing the country over the past two week were mostly empty.

Officials stated that U.S. forces had taken every precaution at the airport to protect against IS attacks, which are far more radical than the Taliban. Biden stated that a drone strike that he ordered to kill two high-profile IS militants, who military officials said were involved in planning and facilitating the attacks, was not his "last" response after Thursday's suicide bomber attack.

Afghan translator for the U.S. military claimed he was in a group of people who had permission to leave and tried to get to the airport on Friday night. After having passed through three checkpoints, they were stopped at the fourth. The Taliban claimed that they were told by the Americans not to allow U.S. passport holders through.

The man said that he was so hopeless about his future, and spoke to The Associated Press under anonymity due to security concerns. "If the evacuation has ended, what will happen?"

Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, stated Saturday that Afghans who have worked with American forces are still being allowed in.

A spokesperson for the State Department stated that 5,400 Americans have been evacuated safely from Afghanistan since August 14, with nearly 300 Americans being evacuated in the last 24 hours. The department was unable to confirm that 350 more were trying to flee the country.

With Tuesday's deadline approaching and the Taliban in control of most of the country, hundreds of protesters including civil servants gathered outside banks while many others waited at cash machines. They claimed they had not been paid in three to six months, and that they were unable withdraw cash. Although ATMs were still operational, withdrawals were restricted to $200 per 24 hours. The central bank opened commercial banks on Saturday and allowed customers to withdraw $200 per week. It called it a temporary measure.

The West could use the economic crisis that predated the Taliban takeover to their advantage and urge Afghanistan's new rulers form a moderate, inclusive government. They should also allow people to flee after Tuesday.

Afghanistan heavily depends on international aid. It provided 75% of the budget for the toppled Western-backed government. While the Taliban claim they want to have good relations with the international community, and they have promised a more moderate Islamic regime than the one they had when they last ruled Afghanistan, many Afghans remain skeptical.

The Taliban cannot access almost any of the central bank's $9 billion in reserves, most of which is held by the New York Federal Reserve. The International Monetary Fund also stopped the transfer of approximately $450 million. The local currency could collapse without a steady supply of U.S. Dollars, which could cause the price of basic goods to soar.

Biden stated that he would adhere to the Tuesday deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S forces. The Taliban, however, have refused any extension of this date. Biden and other NATO leaders said that they would work with the Taliban in order to allow Afghan nationals and Afghans who have worked with them to go.

The Taliban encouraged Afghans to remain, offering amnesty to all those who fought for them. They also stated that commercial flights would resume following the U.S. withdrawal. However, it is not clear if airlines will offer service.

The U.S. and its allies said that they will continue to provide humanitarian aid through the U.N., other partners, but any broader engagement -- including assistance for development -- is likely hinged on the Taliban's ability to fulfill their promises of more moderate government.

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