Politics

Afghanistan evacuations speed up amid reports of Taliban violence, crackdown on women's rights

Key Points
  • Thousands of diplomats and aid workers have been evacuated, according to Western governments, along with at least several hundred Afghans.
  • In a press conference Tuesday night, a spokesman for the Taliban, infamous for its brutal executions and oppression of dissenters and women, promised rights for women and the press and amnesty for government officials.
  • Many Afghans and international leaders are extremely skeptical of the Taliban's pledges. There were also reports that Taliban were blocking women from schools and workplaces.
People wait to be evacuated from Afghanistan at the airport in Kabul on August 18, 2021 following the Taliban stunning takeover of the country. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
- | AFP | Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Evacuations from Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport picked up pace Wednesday after a frenzied and deadly start to the week as foreigners and Afghans scramble to get out of the country now under control of the Taliban.

Thousands of diplomats and aid workers have been evacuated, according to Western governments, along with at least several hundred Afghans, though the exact numbers remain unclear.

More than 2,200 diplomats and other civilian workers have been evacuated on military flights, according to Reuters, citing an anonymous security official, though the nationalities of the evacuees have not been confirmed and it is not known whether that figure includes the more than 600 Afghans crammed onto a U.S. C-17 aircraft that took them to Qatar.

Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, Afghanistan August 15, 2021.
Courtesy of Defense One | Handout via Reuters

The British government says it is taking approximately 1,000 people per day out of Afghanistan. "We're still bringing out British nationals ... and those Afghan nationals who are part of our locally employed scheme," U.K. Interior Minister Priti Patel told the BBC on Wednesday.

The Pentagon's goal is to get 5,000 to 9,000 people out of Kabul daily, said Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Staff for regional operations, said at a news conference Tuesday.

Taylor expects a departure tempo of one U.S. military cargo aircraft per hour. He said about 4,000 U.S. troops are stationed in the capital to aid in the evacuation efforts and provide security.

Taliban promise rights, amnesty

The missions are being carried out as the Taliban lay out for the world what they claim their leadership will look like — and as reports surface of fresh brutality by the militants.

In a somewhat surreal press conference Tuesday night, a spokesman for the militant Islamic group, infamous for its brutal executions and oppression of dissenters, women, and anyone who fell afoul of its ultraconservative rules, promised rights for women and the press and amnesty for government officials.

"I would like to assure the international community, including the United States, that nobody will be harmed," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters. "We don't want any internal or external enemies."

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He said the Taliban would ensure safety for anyone who laid down their weapons, regardless of their past affiliations, and would allow women to work and go to school, but "within the framework of Islam" — a vague parameter given the extreme interpretation of the religion that the group is known for.

Reports of human rights violations by Taliban fighters have surfaced in other parts of the country in recent weeks, and many Afghans remain desperate to flee the country for fear of reprisal for their role in helping U.S. and allied forces. Whether the group will stay true to its word is yet to be seen.

NBC News' Richard Engel said local media reported that Taliban fighters killed two demonstrators at a protest in Jalalabad.

Reports of violence, blocked routes to airport

In contrast to the conciliatory image Taliban representatives attempted to convey during their press conference Tuesday, reports are surfacing from Kabul and around the country of beatings, shootings of civilians and women being barred from educational institutions by Taliban members.

Despite promises of "safe passage" to Kabul airport for those who want to leave the country, the State Department has received reports of people being turned away, pushed back and beaten when trying to access the airport, national security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday.

Photos published by NBC on Wednesday and taken by a Los Angeles Times reporter show bloodied adults and children in Kabul after being beaten by Taliban militants. The group's officials deny their fighters took part in any such violence, insisting it was carried out by men impersonating the Taliban.

Women are also describing being blocked from their places of work and education by Taliban members, in contradiction of the group's pledge to continue to allow women to participate in the workforce and go to school.

"Taliban didn't allow my ex-colleague here in @TOLOnews and famous anchor of the State-owned @rtapashto Shabnam Dawran to start her work today," Miraqa Popal, head of news at Afghan broadcaster Tolo News, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, along with a video of his colleague recounting the event.

"Despite wearing a hijab & carrying correct ID, I was told by Taliban: The regime has changed. Go home," Dawran, the female anchor, says in the video, according to Popal.