Seven Afghan civilians have been killed around Kabul international airport as chaos continued to hamper western efforts to evacuate people from the country, one week after the Taliban retook control.
Confirming the civilian deaths, the UK defence ministry acknowledged on Sunday that “conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging”, as the US warned its citizens not to go to the airport unless they were told to, citing “potential security threats outside the gates”.
Tony Blair, who as prime minister ordered UK forces into Afghanistan 20 years ago, over the weekend criticised the US pullout from the country as “tragic” and “unnecessary”, in his first public remarks since Kabul fell to the Taliban.
Blair said in a statement that the US decision to abandon Afghanistan had been taken “with every jihadist group around the world cheering”, adding that the UK had a “moral obligation” to help evacuate and give sanctuary to Afghans.
He described the US exit deal with the Taliban signed under former US president Donald Trump as “replete with concessions” and driven “not by grand strategy but by politics”.
Blair’s condemnation came amid frenzied scenes in Kabul, with Taliban fighters blocking desperate Afghans and foreign personnel from reaching Kabul airport.
The crisis has engulfed President Joe Biden’s administration in controversy, while Afghanistan is now in turmoil without a functioning government and bureaucrats fleeing to safety. Top Taliban leaders, including co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kabul over the weekend with the goal of forming a new administration.
The speed of the Taliban offensive and the shock capitulation of Kabul has left foreigners and Afghans associated with western powers at risk of retributive attacks by the Taliban and other terror groups.
While the US put out an advisory statement on Saturday telling its citizens not to go to the airport unless instructed otherwise, officials have warned of the growing risk of terror attacks launched by the Afghan affiliate of the Isis terror group, which last month launched a rocket attack on the presidential palace in Kabul.
In the week since the Taliban seized power, Afghans who were part of Ashraf Ghani’s government and security forces, activists and journalists have reported being threatened by Taliban fighters, who have gone on a door-to-door manhunt searching for collaborators.
German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle alleged last week that Taliban fighters killed a relative of one of its journalists and raided the homes of other reporters, undermining the Taliban’s promise to offer a general amnesty and its campaign to portray itself as more moderate.
The Taliban recaptured Kabul a week ago after a lightning offensive across the country, taking back control for the first time since they were ousted by the 2001 US invasion that followed the 9/11 terror attacks. During its time in power, the Islamist group enforced a brutal theocracy, depriving women of their rights and enforcing a medieval form of justice with public executions. It also allowed Islamist extremist groups to flourish in the country.
Since Ghani fled the country, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai and ex-peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah have been pushing for an inclusive government that reflects the ethnic diversity of the country and to potentially secure roles in the new administration.
Karzai and Abdullah have been meeting senior Taliban officials, including those from the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate with close ties to Pakistan’s intelligence service, in an attempt to strike a power-sharing deal.
Ahmad Wali Massoud, the brother of a slain Afghan warlord from the anti-Taliban bastion of Panjshir valley, has warned of a broad civil uprising if the militants do not agree to a deal. But following the Taliban’s rapid offensive across the country, analysts say political opponents have little leverage to force concessions and may struggle to mobilise a war-weary population.
Additional reporting by Helen Warrell in London