Taliban ready to ‘seize’ Kabul airport

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Saturday the group’s forces were holding some positions within the airport and were ready to peacefully take control of it as American forces flew out. But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby denied the claim.

Afghan evacuees queue before boarding one of the last Italian military aircraft flights during the evacuation at Kabul’s airport, Afghanistan [Italian Ministry of Defence/Handout via Reuters]

The Taliban deployed extra forces outside the airport to prevent large crowds from gathering in the wake of Thursday’s bombing. New layers of checkpoints sprang up on roads leading to the airport, some manned by uniformed Taliban fighters with Humvees and night-vision goggles captured from Afghan security forces.  Areas where the crowds had gathered over the past two weeks in the hopes of fleeing the country were largely empty.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Kabul, said since Friday evening, the US military has been pulling back its forces and giving up its guard posts to the Taliban on the outer perimeter of Kabul airport and in some positions inside the airport before the deadline for the final withdrawal of its troops on August 31.

“You do get a sense this Saturday evening here in Kabul that this long, drawn-out, often chaotic and traumatic evacuation process [is] finally in the end game,” he said.

As the flow of planes leaving Kabul slowed, others arrived in locales around the world carrying Afghans who managed to secure places on the last evacuation flights, including in the Washington area, Philadelphia, Madrid, Birmingham, England, among others. Some were relieved and looking forward to starting their new lives far from the Taliban, but others were bitter about having to flee.

An evacuation flight to Britain landed with an extra passenger on Saturday after the cabin crew delivered a baby girl midair, Turkish media reported. The parents named her Havva, or Eve, and she was at least the fourth baby known to have been born to Afghan mothers who went into labour on evacuation flights.

The Taliban has encouraged Afghans to stay, pledging amnesty even to those who fought against them, and has said commercial flights would resume after the US withdrawal, but it is unclear if airlines will be willing to offer service.

The US and its allies have said they will continue providing humanitarian aid through the UN and other partners, but any broader engagement – including development assistance – is likely to hinge on whether the Taliban deliver on their promises of more moderate rule.