Afghanistan airspace shut for civilian planes, mayhem at airport, 7 die amid desperation to exit

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The tarmac of Kabul airport turned into a tragic centrepiece of the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan on Monday as five people were reported killed amid a scramble to clamber onto any aircraft readying for take-off, including a US military plane that was seen taxiing with hundreds running along like it were a giant bus that could be stopped to squeeze in a few more passengers.
The unfolding theatre of the absurd was capped by the Taliban political office declaring to Al Jazeera TV, “Thanks to God, the (20-year) war is over”. The Taliban also sought to stem the panic that has swept Kabul, saying “life, property and honour of no one shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen”.
None of these statements, of course, had any calming effect on the chaos at the airport, exacerbated by Afghan gunmen attacking US forces stationed at the terminal. Two of the gunmen were killed in retaliatory fire, the Pentagon said later. Press secretary John Kirby said one member of the US team had been reported injured.
US troops also fired in the air to deter people trying to force their way into the military flight evacuating diplomats and embassy staff, another official said. It was unclear if the five people reported killed in the chaos at the airport were shot or died in a stampede.
The Pentagon said US forces were working with Turkish and other international troops to clear Kabul airport to allow evacuation. US forces have taken over air traffic control at Kabul, it announced.
With Afghanistan airspace shut for commercial planes, several Indians waiting to return home were left stranded in Kabul as Air India could not operate its Delhi-Kabul return flight that was to fly home over 160 people. Declaring Kabul airspace “uncontrolled”, the Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority issued two notices to airmen, advising overflying commercial aircraft to reroute. For Indian airlines flying overseas, it means taking longer routes.
Far from the ravages of war in Kabul, a special session of the United Nations Security Council culminated in the US promising to be generous in resettling Afghans on its soil. It urged its neighbours to give refuge — temporary or permanent — to Afghans fleeing the Taliban.
President Joe Biden remained combative in the face of mounting criticism, both within and without, of the US pullout that paved the way for the Taliban’s return. He said the US’s “longest war” had ended and the onus was on Afghan forces to fight back the Taliban.
“If President Biden truly has no regrets about his decision to withdraw, then he is disconnected from reality when it comes to Afghanistan,” Republican senator Lindsey Graham tweeted.
British PM Boris Johnson intends to host a virtual meeting of G7 leaders to discuss the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, his office said on Monday, as the government stepped up efforts to evacuate its citizens from Kabul.
Al Jazeera broadcast footage of what it said were Taliban commanders in the presidential palace, ringed by dozens of fighters. Mohammad Naeem, spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office, said the contours of Afghanistan’s new government would be made known soon. Saying the Taliban did not want to “live in isolation”, he called for peaceful international relations and sought to project a moderate face by promising the regime would respect women’s rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans.
Runaway Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul on Sunday to let in the Taliban unopposed, said in a statement that he did so to “avoid bloodshed”.

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