(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s president fled the country over the weekend and the Taliban seized control of the presidential palace there, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.
As the crisis intensifies, with images from Kabul showing Afghans storming the airport tarmac and climbing onto military planes after the U.S. assumed control of the airport, President Joe Biden cut his time at Camp David short and headed back to the White House to address the nation Monday afternoon.
The Pentagon said that 6,000 U.S. troops would soon be in the country’s capital as the military races to evacuate diplomats and civilians from an increasingly chaotic Kabul. Despite criticism, the Biden administration is sticking by its decision to withdraw troops from the country by Aug. 31, ending America’s longest war.
Here are some key developments. All times Eastern:
Aug 17, 6:39 am
US ambassador to Afghanistan says he has not fled
Ross Wilson, acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said he is still in Kabul despite media reports that he had fled as the country descended into chaos.
Wilson took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to address the “false reports,” saying he remains in Afghanistan’s capital “working hard to help [thousands] of U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans.”
“Our commitment to the Afghan people endures,” Wilson tweeted.
Aug 17, 6:23 am
Taliban declares ‘amnesty,’ urges women to join government
The Taliban on Tuesday declared an “amnesty” for all in Afghanistan and encouraged women to join their government.
“The Islamic Emirate doesn’t want women to be victims,” Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, said on Afghan state television, using the group’s phrase “Islamic Emirate” to refer to the country of Afghanistan. “They should be in the government structure according to Shariah law.”
“The structure of government is not fully clear,” he added, “but based on experience, there should be a fully Islamic leadership, and all sides should join.”
There are fears that the militants will seek revenge on those who worked for the toppled Afghan government or foreign nations, such as the United States. There are also concerns for the future of girls and women under the Taliban’s government, which stripped them of nearly all their rights when it previously ruled Afghanistan.
Aug 17, 5:41 am
Former Afghan interpreters for US speak out: ‘It’s a nightmare’
Some former Afghan interpreters for the U.S. government are speaking out while they watch in fear from afar as the Taliban seizes control of their country.
Ismail Khan, a former interpreter for American troops in Afghanistan who worked with the U.S. Army as a translator from 2006 to 2012, described the situation as chaotic and dire.
“It’s a nightmare,” Khan told San Francisco ABC station KGO in an interview on Monday. “We never thought it would come to this.”
Khan, who is now the special immigrant visa ambassador for Seattle-based nationwide nonprofit No One Left Behind, said that any Afghans who have worked for or helped the U.S. government are at risk of being killed by the Taliban — and it’s not just interpreters.
“Cooks, cleaners, there are security guards, there are mechanics, there are laundry guys,” he explained. “There are a lot of people that worked with U.S. forces, and not only their lives but their family’s lives are also in danger.”
“People are going to die,” he added. “They (the Taliban) are going door-to-door to slaughter those who raised their hand and wanted to help.”
Khan believes there are more than 60,000 Afghans who need to be evacuated “right now,” but the Biden administration has only approved visas for a few thousand.
“They’re begging for help,” he said. “We should stand up and do something about it. It’s a matter of life and death.”
Another former interpreter, Muhammad, who withheld his last name for fear of retribution, said his wife and five children are still in Kabul. Muhammad worked as an interpreter for the U.S. embassy there until moving to Philadelphia in 2019. He and his family returned to Afghanistan’s capital this summer to visit relatives.
Muhammad went back to the United States last week while his family stayed behind, after receiving assurances from his contacts at the U.S. embassy that his wife and children would be safely evacuated. Now, they can’t get out.
“I cannot live without my family,” Muhammad told Philadelphia ABC station WPVI in an interview on Monday. “They are concerned, they are scared, but they have no option.”
Aug 16, 10:53 pm
Former President Bush calls on America to help Afghan refugees
Former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush released a statement late Monday night calling on America and its allies to aid the people of Afghanistan as the Taliban has taken over the country.
They said the Biden administration has the authority to help now.
“The Afghans now at the greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation. President Biden has promised to evacuate these Afghans, along with American citizens and our allies,” they said in a statement. “The United States government has the legal authority to cut the red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises. And we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay. Our most stalwart allies, along with private NGOs, are ready to help.”
Despite the sudden collapse of the Afghan government, the Bush’s said they remain hopeful for the country and its people.
“In times like these, it can be hard to remain optimistic. Laura and I will steadfastly remain so. Like our country, Afghanistan is also made up of resilient, vibrant people,” their statement said. “Nearly 65 percent of the population is under twenty-five years old. The choices they will make for opportunity, education, and liberty will also determine Afghanistan’s future.”
Aug 16, 8:11 pm
Details about C-17 flight mobbed by thousands at Kabul airport
In a dramatic video, hundreds of Afghan civilians surrounded a U.S. C-17 military transport aircraft as it taxied on the runway at Kabul’s airport.
A U.S. defense official said these were not special visa applicants, but people who had breached the runway from the civilian side of the airport.
According to the official, the C-17 had landed with cargo and as the landing crew attempted to unload, it was rushed by hundreds of Afghan civilians. The aircrew decided it was not safe to unload and began taxiing to fly away to safety.
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