A loud explosion rocked Kabul Sunday afternoon. Witnesses said it was more than 2 miles away from the airport. It wasn’t immediately clear whether it was a bombing or a rocket strike and there was no word on casualties.
Afghans were told Sunday that there was no longer any hope of getting a seat on a military flight out of the country. America’s allies have already ceased air evacuations, and the remaining U.S. efforts focused on airlifting American citizens and their children and spouses.
Some private evacuation flights were still attempting to travel to Kabul, but it was unknown if they would be able to continue once the last U.S. forces in the country withdraw on Tuesday.
On Sunday morning, dozens of families were making a last-ditch effort to enter the Kabul airport, despite U.S. Embassy warnings of another attack in the area. The families had been told to board buses at a designated rallying point in the capital, with minimal luggage because of limitations on space.
Many were frightened when the buses didn’t leave even after the U.S. Embassy warned another attack was imminent. Some 200 Afghans and 13 American troops were killed in an Islamic State suicide bombing at the airport’s Abbey Gate on Thursday.
“Due to a specific, credible threat, U.S. citizens near Kabul airport, including South gate, new Ministry of the Interior, and gate near Panjshir Petrol station, should leave the area immediately. Avoid traveling to the airport at this time,” the embassy tweeted.
Hours later, there was still no information on whether the gates were sealed for good, or if there was any chance of making it through. The families included U.S. citizens, permanent residents and Afghans with visas in process for helping the U.S. during the war.
“None got in,” said one person involved in the operation. “The gates remained closed due to critical threat info. People were going absolutely nuts.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said that France is drafting a plan to create a safe zone in Kabul monitored by the United Nations that would allow evacuations and humanitarian operations to continue after Tuesday’s deadline.
France and the U.K. are planning to submit the plan to the United Nations Security Council when it meets on Monday, Mr. Macron said in an interview with the French publication Le Journal du Dimanche.
“We still have on our lists several thousand Afghans who we want to protect, who are at risk because of their activities—magistrates, artists, intellectuals—but also many other people who have been reported by relatives and who we are told are at risk,” Mr. Macron said. “And then there are many women who have been educated over the past 20 years, especially in the cities, and who must be helped to escape repression.”
Mr. Macron said his government wants to organize humanitarian operations that would use the civilian airport of Kabul or facilities in neighboring countries.
“This is also one of the preconditions that we set for any relationship with the Taliban, that is to say the ability of the allies to complete their humanitarian operations,” he said.
The rush on banks revealed the economic challenge that could pose an early threat to Afghanistan’s new rulers as they struggle to keep the lights on in a state that has been gutted by four decades of war, a fresh exodus of government officials and professionals, and the recent disconnection from the global financial system.
Bank customers in Kabul queued before dawn to withdraw cash, but said they were told that they could only take out $200 a week per customer. The central bank has also ordered Afghan banks to limit withdrawals from ATMs outside the country to $150 a day, a branch manager of a private bank in Kabul said.
He added that the Taliban-controlled central bank had warned private banks that they would face “serious action” if anyone violated the withdrawal policy.
The Taliban last week appointed Haji Mohammad Idris, who is said to have no formal financial training but has acted in senior financial positions in the movement, as the new governor of the central bank.
The former central bank chief, Ajmal Ahmady, fled when the Taliban rolled into Kabul on Aug. 15. According to Mr. Ahmady, the Taliban can only access 0.1-0.2% of the central bank’s reserves of $9 billion, because most of the bank’s assets are held in the U.S.
Afghanistan’s new Taliban administration can expect to be squeezed by international pressure. About 75% of the previous government’s expenses were footed by international partners, chiefly the U.S. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund suspended operations in Afghanistan after the Taliban toppled the Afghan republic on Aug. 15. Prices for food staples and fuel have already soared.
Since taking power, the Taliban have sought to convince technocrats and officials linked to the deposed government to stay in their positions. Some, including the mayor of Kabul, remained in their jobs.
But many public servants, who for years were considered legitimate targets by the Taliban and saw their colleagues killed in daylight assassinations, appear reluctant to return to work, either due to fear of the militants or because they don’t expect to be paid. Many ministries and other government institutions are now manned by a skeleton staff. These public servants account for a large share of the 110,000 people flown out of Afghanistan by the international airlift in the past two weeks.
“The whole system collapsed and many government employees fled to other countries,” said Qasem, an employee of the ministry of commerce and industry in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif who asked to be quoted by first name only for security reasons.
“Out of 15 or 20 employees in each department, I see two or three of them present at work. I personally go to work and sign the attendance sheet and leave because there is no work to do and, more importantly, I don’t feel secure in terms of my life and my financial situation,” he said.
As the evacuation flights come to an end, growing numbers of Afghans are beginning to travel overland to Pakistan, which has special immigration rules for Afghans leaving in border areas, such as Kandahar.
One Afghan man who recently fled from his northern hometown of Mazar-e-Sharif via Kabul to Spin Boldak on the Pakistani border said bus fares had tripled, and accommodation was hard to come by.
“The hotels had no space. We slept on the streets,” he said.
Once he made it to the border, the crowds were immense. People who tried to cross the border were either beaten by the Taliban or Pakistani border guards, unless their identification papers showed they were from Kandahar, in which case the Pakistanis let them through, the man said. The beatings resulted in stampedes, he said, adding “the sick people and children were the ones who got trampled the most.”
Desperate to cross, he said he convinced family members in Kandahar to give him their identification and managed to get through.
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