More chaos amid the the struggle to escape Kabul

By Melissa Coade

August 20, 2021

Afghans hold national flag as they celebrate the 102nd Independence Day in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 19 August 2021
Afghans hold national flag as they celebrate the 102nd Independence Day in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 19 August 2021. (EPA/STRINGER)

Scott Morrison has ruled out that any ADF personnel will be able to help those in Afghanistan who cannot make it to the airport, while Australia signs a joint statement warning a future Taliban government that the international world is watching how it treats its women and girls.

Thursday 19 August marked World Humanitarian Day — an occasion to remember the deadly 2003 attack on a hotel in Iraq that killed Brazilian UN diplomat and humanitarian Sergio Vieira de Mello, and to advocate for ‘the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers’. 

Thursday also marked another 24 hours of escalating violence in Afghanistan, which has been officially subject to Taliban control since the weekend. Scenes of peaceful protest turned deadly, from the streets of the capital and other regional places like the eastern cities of Jalalabad and Asadabad are published each day for the world to witness. 

Women were front and centre at protest marches in Kabul, which also coincided with the annual day of national independence in Afghanistan. People on the ground say the line between what stays peaceful or turns violence is a fine one.

At the epicentre of the chaos is Kabul Airport, perhaps one of the worst places to be in the city right now – but also the most hopeful for thousands of desperate people wanting to get out. Amid the choke of smoke bombs thrown into crowds by Taliban guards, and attacks on people waiting outside terminal gates, more people come to be evacuated by a series of last-minute flights organised by the US and allied forces aircraft.

Some have travelled to the airport in cars, others carrying small children. Recent reports about the conditions on the roads leading to the various entry points of Hamid Karzai International Airport and the airport perimeter suggest the handle that US forces have on securing the facility is weakening.

It has emerged that one of the victims shown in harrowing footage posted to Twitter earlier this week, which depicted two human bodies falling from a military aircraft as it began ascend, was an Afghan teen who played for the national football team. His name was Zaki Anwari.

Emergency flights out of Afghanistan

According to Business Insider, US General Frank McKenzie met with senior Taliban leaders in Qatar on Sunday to make arrangements that would ensure the US and its allies could accommodate the ‘safe passage’ of civilians from Kabul.

“I cautioned them against interference in our evacuation, and made it clear to them that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces,” the general said in a statement, adding that his forces are “prepared to fully support US Embassy efforts to process and evacuate US citizens, partners, special visa applicants, and Afghans at risk.”

US president Joe Biden has also pledged that American troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond the August 31 deadline he had set until all Americans were evacuated from the country. 

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison indicated during a press conference that military-assisted evacuations from Kabul were likely to continue into next week

“We will continue to work with other nations, other partners, in ensuring the airlift of Australians, Afghan nationals who we are seeking the support and other foreign officials who are seeking to be evacuated,” the pm said.

Speaking from Canberra, Morrison said that the Australian Defence Force would not be able to help any person situated beyond the bounds of the airport and that the mood in Kabul was ‘chaotic’.

“We’re engaged in constant messaging and contact wherever we possibly can with those we are seeking to evacuate.

“Operations of Australian Defence Force or others who were there beyond the airport are not possible. They are not able to be undertaken in any way by the Australian Defence Forces,” Morrison said. 

“To do so would put them at great risk with no commensurate benefit.”

The Mandarin recently shared the story of a group of 130 orphans and staff of the Australian NGO Mahboba’s Promise, half of whom are trying to get to Kabul from the northern Panjshir Valley in Afghan territory nestled between Pakistan and Tajikistan. The charity is going to every length to help the vulnerable group escape Afghanistan and say assistance from the Australian government is their last hope.

“We’re working to make that process of entering into the airport, as orderly as you possibly can in a chaotic situation like this, but it is very, very difficult,” Morrison said of the security situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

“The biggest challenge is for people to be able to get to that airport.” 

On Saturday, AFP and SBS reports emerged that US citizens were told to stay away from the airport due to ‘security threats’. A US official also confirmed to Reuters that at least 20 people have died in and around Kabul airport in the past seven days as a result of the desperate evacuation mayhem.

Australia joins international voices calling for ‘safety, security and dignity’ of Afghan women

On Thursday – World Humanitarian Day — a joint statement on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan was published on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Together with 19 other nations and the EU, Australia endorsed a statement expressing deep worry for Afghan women and girls, their rights to education, work and freedom of movement.

“We call on those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan to guarantee their protection,” the statement read.

“Afghan women and girls, as all Afghan people, deserve to live in safety, security and dignity. Any form of discrimination and abuse should be prevented.”

The statement said the international group would watch how any future Afghanistan government treated its citizens and hoped that it would guarantee human rights and freedoms to all.

“We in the international community stand ready to assist them with humanitarian aid and support, to ensure that their voices can be heard.”

“We will monitor closely how any future government ensures rights and freedoms that have become an integral part of the life of women and girls in Afghanistan during the last twenty years,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the women’s rights group Mahboba’s Promise wait for some word from the Australian government that it will help the women and children in its care escape the uncertainty of Afghanistan’s future.

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