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Fears for trapped Afghans as EU and NATO evacuations run on

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By Euronews with AP
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Civilians prepare to board an evacuation plane out of Kabul Airport.
Civilians prepare to board an evacuation plane out of Kabul Airport.   -   Copyright  Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/Public Domain
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Human rights organisations and individuals inside Afghanistan continued to sound the alarm on Friday about attacks on progressives, minority groups and Afghans who worked with the former government and foreign states.

Amnesty International also reported that nine members of a minority ethnic group were shot and tortured to death by Taliban fighters in Ghazni province last month.

Following an urgent meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Friday afternoon, the group issued a joint statement expressing concern over the “grave events" in Afghanistan and called for “an immediate end to violence" and “serious human rights violations and abuses."

Confusion still reigns over whether the Taliban will permit Afghans eligible for evacuation to get inside Kabul Airport, which is still overcrowded as desperate families try to flee the country.

European countries continued to fly out their citizens and Afghan former colleagues on Friday, with Spain agreeing to shelter people on the way to their destinations.

But a recent diplomatic spat has left 32 Afghan refugees stranded on the Polish-Belarusian border, while Turkey has pressed ahead with plans to build a vast border wall blocking off on-foot arrivals from Iran.

Updates

08.20.2021
10:34
Key developments on Friday
  • The Taliban has said it wants "good relations" with the rest of the world
  • Amnesty International reports the group tortured and killed a number of ethnic minority members in July
  • An ex-senior NATO official has warned terror threats will be on the rise
  • European countries continue to evacuate hundreds from a crowded Kabul Airport
  • NATO foreign ministers and US President Joe Biden have said again their priority is getting citizens and Afghan partners out of the country
  • Social media platforms have joined a drive to help Afghans fearing reprisal from the Taliban to protect their identities online
08.20.2021
21:04

Biden: Our mission is to get Americans and allies out of Afghanistan

US President Joe Biden has reiterated that his country's priority is evacuating American citizens in the final days of US military presence in Afghanistan.
At a White House press conference on Friday, Biden called the evacuation "one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history".
He said the US had conveyed 13,000 people to safety from Kabul Airport since Saturday and said so far, no American passport-holders had been obstructed on their way to the airport. He said to Americans: "We will get you home... We are particularly focused on making sure every American who wants to leave can get to the airport."
The US has also evacuated Afghans who worked and served alongside the US, as well as some at-risk Afghan individuals. All 204 staffers with the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have been brought to safety since the newspapers published an appeal on Tuesday.
But others remain in the country, with many too afraid to approach the chaotic Kabul Airport for fear of reprisal from the Taliban. 
"The past week has been heartbreaking," Biden said. "We've seen gut-wrenching images of panicked people acting out of sheer desperation. It's completely understandable. They're frightened. They're sad. They're uncertain what happens next. 
"Now we have a mission to complete in Afghanistan... to save other Americans, our Afghan allies and the citizens of our allies."

Asked by a reporter why the US did not carry out large-scale evacuations earlier in 2021, knowing a Taliban resurgence was on the cards, Biden again blamed the Afghan army's failure to hold off the Taliban for longer: "The overwhelming consensus was that they were not going to collapse... not just abandon, put down their arms, and take off."
08.20.2021
20:07

Analysis: Five factors that were Afghan government's downfall

"More than 300,000 Afghan army men were equipped with advanced US rifles but not with morale. For years they have been plagued by corruption and payoffs and above all a sense of betrayal by the government and officials, the majority of whom were corrupt and taking care of their pockets and clans rather than the nation.

"Some 13 years ago an Afghan friend of mine gifted me a pair of US-army boots bought from a middle-man in front of the Bagram Airbase, apparently in exchange for Afghan hashish and directly from a US soldier or from an Afghan army official."

So writes Masoud Imani Kalesar, an Iranian-born Euronews reporter who spent time in Kabul. As the wider world grapples to understand how the Taliban managed to take back near-total control of Afghanistan in 11 days, Masoud gives his own, clear-eyed take on the five key factors that compelled the collapse of the Afghan government and army.
08.20.2021
19:52

We need to work harder on Kabul evacuations, says NATO chief

NATO foreign ministers committed on Friday to focus on ensuring the safe evacuation from Afghanistan of their citizens and of Afghans deemed at risk after the Taliban takeover.

Faced with continuing chaos in the capital and the exit roads, many of the 30 allied nations raised “the need to work harder on how we can get more people ... into the airport, then processed and then onto the planes,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

He called that "the big, big, big challenge.”

All too often over the past hours and days, NATO planes have been able to get to Kabul, only to be forced to leave empty or near-empty.

Some allies called on the United States to secure Kabul airport for as long as it takes, even if that stretches beyond the evacuation of all U.S. nationals.

A joint statement Friday said that “as long as evacuation operations continue, we will maintain our close operational cooperation through Allied military means” at the airport.

08.20.2021
19:10

Human rights lawyer warns Afghan women are already cut off from public life

The atmosphere in Afghanistan is "full of fear and hopelessness" just days after the Taliban took control of the country, a human rights lawyer has told Euronews.
London-based Fereshta Abbasi, who has worked on the ground in Afghanistan, said those she was in contact with inside the country were mostly too afraid to go outside.
Friends and notably women, she said, had deactivated their social media profiles for fear of being tracked and identified by the Taliban: "Even though the Taliban has not formed their government yet, women are mostly eliminated from a social perspective. Their social life has already been affected."
08.20.2021
18:53

Social networks deploy new features to protect Afghans' identities

Facebook has introduced extra safety measures for Afghan users wanting to shield their identities from the Taliban. The social media giant has introduced a function allowing users to lock their account with one click, keeping all but their basic information invisible to non-Facebook friends. It has also removed people's ability to view and search the 'Friends' list for Facebook accounts in Afghanistan.
LinkedIn has also temporarily hidden the connections of its users in Afghanistan so other users cannot see them. The moves come amid rising fears that the Taliban could track citizens via their social media to target them in reprisal attacks.
Facebook head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said people outside Afghanistan who might have friends in the country could help keep them safe by reducing the visibility of their own friends lists.
US-based organisation Human Rights First has published a guide in English, Pashto and Dari to help people reduce their digital footprints and avoid recognition. Organisers of OPCDE, a cybersecurity conference, also released a bullet-point checklist for Afghans seeking to protect their information online.
08.20.2021
18:03

Merkel to Putin: Foreground Germany's Afghan colleagues in Taliban talks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has asked Russia to encourage the Taliban to let Afghans who worked with German military and aid organisations leave the country.
Merkel met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday to talk about several issues, including the sentencing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to a penal colony.
In comments afterwards, Merkel said the conversation had "highlighted differences, but also approaches for common solutions".
She added: "I have also asked that Russia points out in the talks with the Taliban, that cooperation with the Taliban in Afghanistan, also on humanitarian issues and with UN organisations, is made better possible if... people who helped the German Armed Forces, the German Federal Police, the development organisations over the years, are also given an opportunity to leave the country."
The German government confirmed on Tuesday that it was temporarily suspending all planned development aid to Afghanistan, as it said it would do if the Taliban came to power.
On the same day, Russian ambassador in Kabul Dmitry Zhirnov became the first foreign official to sit down for talks with the Taliban since the takeover. The Russian Foreign Ministry later announced it had secured a guarantee from the Taliban that Russian aircraft would be allowed safe passage into and out of the country.
08.20.2021
17:47

Stoltenberg: Any NATO recognition of Taliban depends on behaviour

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said it remains NATO's priority to get people out of Kabul and keep the airport running.
Speaking after an extraordinary meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Friday: he said: "The situation remains difficult and unpredictable. The main challenge we face is ensuring that people reach and enter Kabul airport."
He conceded that there were "many lessons to be learned" from the consequences of the withdrawal and said he planned to conduct a "thorough assessment of NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan".
Stoltenberg also reiterated that NATO would "not allow terrorists to threaten us again" from Afghanistan, adding: "No terrorist attacks on Allied soil have been organized from Afghanistan over the last two decades. These gains must be preserved."
During the foreign ministers' discussion, Stoltenberg told reporters, "several allies" had made the point that the US may need to revise its August 31 deadline for leaving Afghanistan if evacuations are still going on.
Asked if NATO would states would recognise the Taliban as the new government of Afghanistan, or enter into dialogue, he said it was conditional "on how the new government behaves, and to what extent they live up to their international commitments."
08.20.2021
17:13

Turkey presses ahead with border wall to stop Afghans trying to flee through Iran

Turkey is reinforcing its border with Iran ahead of an anticipated wave of Afghan refugees trying to get to safety in Europe via land crossings.
A 155-kilometre stretch of a planned three-metre-high, 241-kilometre wall has already been erected at the border, where thousands of Afghans typically make their way into Turkey every year.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday he would not allow his country to become "Europe's refugee warehouse" and demanded Europe shoulder the responsibility for Afghans fleeing the Taliban.
08.20.2021
17:04

Italian NGO's Afghan ex-staff trapped in homes after military rebuffal

An Italian charity has said more than two dozen of its Afghan staff are not being given a space on the country's official evacuation programme.
Luca Lo Presti, founder of the charity Pangea, which worked to empower women in Afghanistan for years, pled with the authorities to allow 30 Afghan staff and their families to be included on Italian flights that carried 500 people to safety this week.
But on Thursday, he said, the military coordinator flatly told him: “Not today.” 
Many of Pangea's ex-colleagues are now stranded in their homes, afraid to go out as Taliban fighters in some areas have been going door-to-door in search of citizens who worked with Western countries.
Most of the Afghans understood to have been evacuated to Europe so far are those that worked directly with diplomatic missions or military forces. The Italian Foreign Ministry has insisted it is supporting others who are at risk, citing the activist Zahra Ahmadi and female researchers from the Veronesi Foundation on a Thursday flight carrying 202 Afghan citizens.
Pangea gave loans to help 70,000 women to open their own businesses in Afghanistan. “Pangea is an enemy [for the Taliban] because whoever creates awareness and rights is the enemy," Lo Presti said.

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On Thursday a confidential United Nations document, leaked to the media, had warned that the Taliban was intensifying a search for people who worked with US and NATO forces.

Fighters, the UN's intelligence contractors wrote, had established "priority lists" of individuals they wanted to arrest.

"They are targeting the families of those who refuse to give themselves up, and prosecuting and punishing their families 'according to Sharia law,'" Christian Nellemann, executive director of the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, which compiled the report for the UN, told AFP.

"We expect both individuals previously working with NATO/US forces and their allies, alongside with their family members, to be exposed to torture and executions."

'We cannot abandon them'

European countries are still scrambling to evacuate those they originally deemed eligible, while calls are mounting for some states to do more.

Access to Kabul Airport is being made more difficult by hundreds of Afghans, who are not part of the official programmes, crowding the concourse outside and hoping to find a way out.

Shocking footage circulated on social media this week appeared to show parents handing their babies young children to US military officers, to be passed into the airport compound.

The UK has announced it will take in up to 20,000 Afghan refugees over the next four years, on top of those now eligible for relocation because of their past work for the British embassy or army.

France and Germany have meanwhile called for the EU to plan to manage the expected surge in refugees coming from Afghanistan.

In a phone call on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed to US President Joe Biden there was a "moral responsibility, that we collectively have, towards Afghan men and women who need our protection and who share our values... We cannot abandon them."

In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also asked Russia to raise the issue of Afghans who had worked with German forces and development groups being allowed safe passage out of the country.