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Gun battle at chaotic Kabul airport leaves Afghan guard dead

By Michael Fitzpatrick - RFI
Asia Hoshang Hashimi AFP
AUG 23, 2021 LISTEN
Hoshang Hashimi AFP

German and US forces were involved in a gun battle Monday at Kabul airport after Afghan guards and unknown assailants exchanged fire, with one guard killed, according to the German army. US President Joe Biden has sought to speed up the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

One Afghan was killed and three others were injured in the dawn firefight involving Afghan guards and unknown assailants.

German and US troops "participated in further exchange of fire," the German army said in a statement.

This was the latest episode in a chaotic operation that has seen about 30,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban marched into Kabul on 15 August, taking effective control of the country.

Terrified Afghans continue to try and flee, overwhelming the operation at Kabul airport and leading to tragic scenes in which at least eight people have died.

The Taliban's victory ended two decades of war as they took advantage of US President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw nearly all US troops from the country.

Biden, who has redeployed thousands of soldiers back to Afghanistan to oversee the evacuations, has insisted he wants to end the US military presence and the airlifts by 31 August.

But with the European Union and Britain saying it will be impossible to get everyone out by then, Biden is under pressure to extend the deadline.

Speaking at the White House, Biden said Sunday he hoped the airlift would not be extended, but said talks were underway to explore that possibility.

"There's discussions going among us and the military about extending," Biden said.

Tragedy is part of the price of departure

He acknowledged the tragic scenes at the airport, which have included babies and children being passed to soldiers over razor-wire fences and men clinging to the outside of departing planes.

He said this was part of the cost of departure.
"There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see," he said.

In an effort to ramp up the airlift, the US government ordered six major commercial airlines to fly back to the United States those who have been evacuated from Kabul to US bases in the Gulf and Europe.   

The Taliban, who have been holding talks with elders and politicians to set up an Afghan government, slammed the evacuation.

"America, with all its power and facilities... has failed to bring order to the airport," Taliban official Amir Khan Mutaqi said.

"There is peace and calm all over the country, but there is chaos only at Kabul airport."

Resistance continues in Panjshir Valley

Far from Kabul, there have been flickers of resistance against the Taliban.

Some ex-government troops have gathered in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital -- long known as an anti-Taliban bastion.

Pro-Taliban Twitter accounts said Sunday the new regime was sending hundreds of fighters to the valley after "local state officials refused to hand it over peacefully".

The Islamists have "massed forces near the entrance of Panjshir", tweeted Amrullah Saleh, vice president of Afghanistan in the previous government, who has taken refuge in the area.

One of the leaders of the movement in Panjshir, named the National Resistance Front (NRF), is the son of famed anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

The NRF is prepared for a "long-term conflict" but is also still seeking to negotiate with the Taliban about an inclusive government, its spokesman Ali Maisam Nazary has said.

"The conditions for a peace deal with the Taliban is decentralisation, a system that ensures social justice, equality, rights, and freedom for all," he said.

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