Thousands clamour to be evacuated at Kabul airport; G7 to consider sanctions

A panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul's international airport killed seven Afghan civilians in the crowds, in the latest chaotic site of civilians desperate to flee Taliban rule.

Britain to lead G7 call to consider sanctions against Taliban as Afghans swarm airport

Troops in camoflage reach down over barbed wire to grab a baby being passed up to them
Outside the Kabul international airport, an Afghan baby is pushed toward U.S. soldiers over a wall with security wire, in a video captured by Omar Haidari, Aug. 19, 2021. (Omar Haidari/The Associated Press)

World leaders will be asked to consider new sanctions on the Taliban when the G7 meets on Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Afghanistan, sources said.

The Western powers' response comes after a chaotic weekend at Kabul's international airport that saw seven people killed in a panicked crush of people, showing the danger still posed to those trying to flee the Taliban's takeover of the country.

A NATO official said at least 20 people had died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampedes, witnesses have said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who currently leads the group that includes Canada, the United States, Italy, France, Germany and Japan, called for the virtual meeting in the wake of the Taliban's swift takeover of Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would be on the call on Tuesday.

On Monday, Australia said it would be willing to assist with evacuations from Afghanistan after Aug. 31 if the United  States decides to delay its withdrawal, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.

The Taliban, which seized power in Afghanistan last week as the United States and its allies withdrew troops after a 20-year war, fired in the air and used batons to force people to form queues outside the airport, witnesses said. 

U.S. President Joe Biden last week said U.S. troops may stay in Afghanistan past an Aug. 31 deadline to evacuate Americans. 

'A long way to go'

U.S. President Joe Biden said there was an "unwavering commitment" to get U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans to safety out of Afghanistan.

"Let me be clear, the evacuation of thousands from Kabul is going to be hard and painful" and would have been "no matter when it began," Biden said in a briefing at the White House.

"We have a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong," Biden said.

The British military on Sunday acknowledged at least seven deaths at the airport. Others may have been trampled, suffocated or suffered heart attacks as Taliban fighters fired into the air to try to drive back the crowds.

Soldiers covered several corpses in white clothing. Other troops stood on concrete barriers, trying to calm the crowd.

Kabul's airport, now one of the only routes out of the country, has seen days of chaos since the Taliban entered the capital on Aug. 15.

Thousands on the tarmac

Thousands poured onto the tarmac last week, and several Afghans plunged to their deaths after clinging to a U.S. military cargo plane as it took off, some of the seven killed on Aug. 16.

The deaths come as a group of fighters opposing the Taliban's rule battle the insurgents in the mountains and valleys to the north of Kabul, capturing several rural districts.

Thousands of people remained outside the Kabul airport on Sunday hoping to be evacuated as Taliban gunman beat back crowds.

In this handout image provided by the U.K. Ministry of Defence, the British armed forces work with the U.S. military to evacuate eligible civilians and their families out of the country on Saturday in Kabul. Seven civilians died in the chaos, the British military said Sunday. (MoD Crown Copyright/Getty Images)

Kabul's airport, now one of the few ways out of the country for the millions in the city, has seen days of chaos since the Taliban entered the capital on Aug. 15.

Thousands rushed the airport last Monday in chaos that saw the U.S. try to clear off the runway with low-flying attack helicopters.

Several Afghans plunged to their deaths while hanging off the side of a U.S. military cargo plane, some of the seven killed that day alone.

"Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging, but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible," the Defence Ministry said in a statement.

It wasn't immediately clear whether those killed had been physically crushed, suffocated or suffered a fatal heart attack in the crowds. Soldiers covered several corpses in white clothes to hide them from view. Other troops stood atop concrete barriers or shipping containers, trying to calm the crowd. Gunshots occasionally rang out.

Taliban says U.S. to blame for chaos

Amir Khan Motaqi, chief of the Taliban's guidance council, criticized the U.S. over the situation at the airport in an audio clip posted online Sunday. He described the U.S.'s actions as "tyranny" — even as it is Taliban fighters who have beaten and shot at those trying to access the airport over the last week.

"All Afghanistan is secure, but the airport, which is managed by the Americans, has anarchy," he said. "The U.S. should not defame itself, should not embarrass itself to the world and should not give this mentality to our people that [the Taliban] are a kind of enemy."

WATCH | Global efforts ramp up to evacuate those stranded in Afghanistan: 

Ottawa criticized as global efforts to rescue people in Kabul ramp up

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As global efforts ramp up to evacuate people from Kabul, Ottawa is facing criticism it's not doing enough — and the crisis is beginning to overshadow Justin Trudeau’s campaign message.

Speaking to an Iranian state television channel late Saturday night in a video call, Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Naeem blamed the deaths at the airport on the Americans in what quickly became a combative interview.

"The Americans announced that we would take you to America with us and people gathered at Kabul airport," Naeem said. "If it was announced right now in any country in the world, would people not go?"

The host on Iranian state TV, which has long criticized the U.S. since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, quickly said: "It won't happen in Iran."

Naeem responded: "Be sure this will happen anywhere."

Fighting north of Kabul

Meanwhile, fighting has erupted in Afghanistan's Baghlan province, some 120 kilometres north of Kabul. Forces organizing under the banner of the "People's Uprising" have taken three districts around the Andarab Valley, nestled in the Hindu Kush mountains near Panjshir, the only province still not under Taliban control.

On Sunday, the Taliban published video online showing fighters, including their elite special forces, preparing to head there, possibly to fight the "People's Uprising" forces. Four officials said the Taliban had gone into the Keshnabad area of Andarab Valley to abduct the children of those opposing them.

Khair Mohammad Khairkhwa, the former head of intelligence in Balkh province, and Abdul Ahmad Dadgar, another leader in the uprising, alleged that Taliban fighters had attacked people's homes and burned them while taking children.

Two other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also alleged the Taliban seized fighters' children.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the fighting.

Meanwhile, the Taliban's top political leader arrived in Kabul for talks on forming a new government. The presence of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who returned to Kandahar earlier this week from Qatar, was confirmed by a Taliban official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media.

Baradar negotiated the militants' 2020 peace deal with the U.S., and he is now expected to play a key role in negotiations between the Taliban and officials from the Afghan government that the militant group deposed.

Afghan officials familiar with talks held in the capital say the Taliban have said they will not make announcements on their government until the Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. troop withdrawal passes.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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