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Illustration by Security Management

Afghans Desperate to Escape Taliban Stall Flights at Airport

Taliban forces entered and took control of the Afghan capital of Kabul this weekend, forcing thousands of people to scramble to escape the country, including interpreters and others who have helped U.S. and allied forces during the past 20 years who fear for their lives.

At Kabul’s international airport, thousands of Afghans stormed the tarmac in an attempt to board any plane out of the country. Some held onto a U.S. military jet as it took off, falling to their deaths, according to ABC News. Senior military officials told the Associated Press that seven people died in the chaos, including the people who fell from the plane.

Some flights were stalled because people swarmed jet bridges and climbed into cabins without tickets—packing planes and refusing to leave. The chaos made it difficult—if not impossible—for a pilot to take off, NBC News reported.

The civilian side of the airport has been closed until further notice because of a radar issue and people on the runways, Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said, cutting off exit routes for many Afghan citizens. As a result, many are trying to coordinate an evacuation alongside U.S. military and other Western forces.

The United States announced Sunday that an additional 1,000 troops will be deployed to Kabul to help with evacuations, according to NPR. The U.S. State Department said that all embassy personnel are safe and stationed at the Kabul Airport.

According to a U.S. State Department and Department of Defense joint statement issued on Sunday:

At present we are completing a series of steps to secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport to enable the safe departure of U.S. and allied personnel from Afghanistan via civilian and military flights.  Over the next 48 hours, we will have expanded our security presence to nearly 6,000 troops, with a mission focused solely on facilitating these efforts and will be taking over air traffic control. Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals. And we will accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks. For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. And we will find additional locations for those yet to be screened.

The head of U.S. Central Command met face-to-face with senior Taliban leaders in Qatar to negotiate an arrangement to continue evacuations without interference, ABC News reported.

Afghans are now attempting to leave through border crossings—all of which are controlled by the Taliban. According to reports from Afghan citizens, few people are being allowed to leave. Pakistan closed the Torkham crossing with Afghanistan now that the Afghan side of the border is under Taliban control. Gandhara reported that Pakistan said it cannot take another wave of Afghan refugees.

Taliban leaders and spokesmen are promising a new version of Taliban rule—one that has been influenced and changed by political pressures inside and outside Afghanistan, allowing women to pursue education and work and accepting Western technology such as social media and smartphones. Many Afghanis are highly skeptical, however, and those in earlier conquered provinces and towns have reported that Taliban fighters have closed girls’ schools, forced women to stay at home unless chaperoned by a male relative, and drafted some men into their ranks.

According to Barbara Kelemen, associate and lead intelligence analyst for Asia at Dragonfly Security Intelligence, two international fronts are emerging. While some countries like China and Russia will be quick to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers, other nations may put conditions on recognition, including human rights protections and international security.

“However, in terms of how to implement this practically, the initial signs are not positive,” she said in a statement.

“In some areas of Afghanistan, such as Herat, we are already seeing women being prevented from entering universities and there are reports of some women being forced into marriages with the Taliban fighters. While the Taliban leadership maintains they will allow women to continue to study and work, this will be challenging to implement in practice given factionalism within the group. In all probability, we’re set to see a major deterioration of women’s rights across the country in the coming months.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban to exercise restraint to protect lives in Afghanistan—particularly citing the threats to women and girls, Reuters reported.

Keleman continued: “The security environment in the country has worsened rapidly over the past few days and all businesses are facing major disruption. Other serious and unforeseen risks are likely to emerge under the new interim government. It is still unclear what type of actors the Taliban will become once they take full control of the country, but it is pretty much certain that businesses and organizations that decide to continue to operate in Afghanistan will need to overhaul the foundations of their corporate security policy.”

Last week, Scott Stewart, vice president at TorchStone Global, told Security Management that organizations operating in or near Afghanistan need to take significant steps to reassess security risks and contingency plans in the face of a Taliban takeover.

“Due to the Taliban’s focus on Afghanistan, it does not mean much for organizations in the broader Middle East,” Stewart said. “There may be repercussions in other parts of South Asia, such as Pakistan where related groups such as the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) may be emboldened by the Afghan Taliban’s successes.”