Taliban cancel cabinet oath-taking

Another evacuation flight leaves as UN warns of Taliban 'reprisals'

By: News Desk      Published: 07:51 AM, 11 Sep, 2021
Taliban cancel cabinet oath-taking
Afghan dual nationals disembark from a Qatar Airways plane as they arrive from Kabul.–AFP

The Taliban have cancelled the oath-taking of the new interim government due today (September 11), saying the ministers already working so there was no need for swearing in of the government members.

The development came after the Russians made public their decision to avoid the oath-taking ceremony.

The Taliban sent invitations to five nations including Iran, Turkey, China, Qatar and Pakistan for their cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony on 9/11.

The Russian foreign ministry on Friday revealed that Russia too had been invited but decided not to attend the ceremony. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Friday that Pakistan had not received a formal invitation.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told TV channels that there was no swearing-in ceremony scheduled for today. He said such a ceremony required formal planning and sending out invitations while there was no time to do that.

He said the Taliban had already announced the names of the ministers who were already working. 

Another evacuation flilght

A second charter flight left Afghanistan on Friday carrying foreigners and Afghans in a sign the country's main airport was close to resuming commercial operations, as the United Nations warned of "credible allegations" of reprisal killings by the Taliban

The plane departed for Qatar the day after just over 100 passengers, including some Americans, left Kabul airport on the first flight carrying foreigners out of the Afghan capital since a US-led evacuation ended on August 30.

Another 32 US citizens or permanent residents left Afghanistan with Washington's support on Friday, either on the Qatar Airways flight or by land, National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said.

"Today's departures demonstrate how we are giving Americans clear and safe options to leave Afghanistan from different locations," Horne said in a statement.

"We will continue to provide proven options for leaving. It is up to Americans who remain whether they choose to take them."

Of the 158 passengers who arrived Friday evening in the Qatari capital Doha, 49 were French nationals and their families, with a Qatari official adding there were also German, Canadian, Dutch, British, Belgian and Mauritanian citizens on board.

The official added that their safe transport to Kabul's airport in a Qatari convoy was also coordinated by the Gulf state, which was already the transit point for about half of the 123,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan as the pro-Western government crumbled and the Taliban took over.

The White House said the Taliban had been "businesslike and professional" in allowing Thursday's flight to leave, but the United Nations envoy for Afghanistan warned the group may be targeting perceived enemies.

"We are also concerned that despite the many statements granting general amnesties... there have been credible allegations of reprisal killings," envoy Deborah Lyons said in New York.

She said Afghan security officials and people who worked for the previous administration were at risk.

Unconfirmed reports in the capital, meanwhile, suggested the Taliban may hold a ceremony to swear in the new government on Saturday -- the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks that triggered the end of their first stint in power.

- 'Just kill me' -

As news of a resumption in evacuation flights spread, some people gathered at the airport gates, pleading with Taliban guards to get in. 

"If I can't go just kill me!" said one woman, among a group of women and children each carrying backpacks. 

Many Afghans in the capital are fearful of a repeat of the hardline Islamist group's brutal and repressive rule from 1996-2001. 

The Taliban have already begun to segregate men and women students and medical staff, suggested women will be banned from playing sports, and unveiled an all-male government drawn exclusively from loyalist ranks.

The UN education agency UNESCO on Friday warned in a report that Afghanistan risks backsliding on nearly two decades of schooling gains for children, especially girls, due to a projected rise in the number of internally displaced people, new Taliban-imposed restrictions on women's education and the withdrawal of international aid, which makes up half of the country's education expenditures.

Afghanistan's economy also risks a likely sharp contraction, said former central bank chief Ajmal Ahmady, who fled the country just after Kabul fell to the Taliban in mid-August.

"I don't want to say economic collapse, but I think it's going to be (an) extremely challenging or difficult economic situation," he said in a discussion hosted by The Atlantic Council, predicting GDP would shrink by 10 to 20 percent.

He said international sanctions that block aid funding and restrict access to $9 billion in reserves also could create a shortage of domestic currency.

- Flow of aid and people -

More than 100 passengers were on the Qatar Airways flight that landed in Doha on Thursday evening, 10 days after the chaotic airlift came to a dramatic close with the US pullout.

In the days that followed the Taliban's blitz, the airport had become a tragic symbol of desperation among Afghans terrified of the militants' return to power -- with thousands of people crowding around its gates daily, and some even clinging to jets as they took off.

More than 100 people were killed, including 13 US troops, in a suicide attack on August 26 near the airport that was claimed by the Islamic State group's local chapter.

Qatar has said it worked with Turkey to swiftly resume operations at Kabul's airport to allow the flow of people and aid.

The Taliban have repeatedly claimed they would not seek revenge against those who worked with the previous regime -- and all Afghans would be granted free passage out of the country when commercial flights resume.

The militants have pledged a more moderate brand of rule, however, they have shown clear signs that they will not tolerate opposition.

Earlier this week, armed Taliban militants dispersed hundreds of protesters, sometimes by firing shots into the air, in cities across Afghanistan.

They also moved to snuff out any further civil unrest, saying protests would need prior authorisation from the justice ministry and no demonstrations were allowed "for the time being".

Measles cases suspend refugee flights to US

Flights bringing Afghan refugees to the United States have been suspended after four cases of measles were detected among recent arrivals, the White House said Friday.

The decision was made at the request of health authorities and as a precautionary measure, press secretary Jen Psaki told a briefing.

The four people with measles have been placed in quarantine and contact tracing has begun.

"All arriving Afghans are currently required to be vaccinated for measles, as a condition of entry into the United States," Psaki said.

She said vaccines against major diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella are being administered in military bases that receive Afghan refugees in the US, and that the administration is considering vaccinating those who are still at bases overseas as they wait to travel to America.

The US-led emergency airlift that preceded the US departure from Afghanistan saw more than 120,000 people evacuated from that country after the Taliban took power.

Most were Afghans considered to be in vulnerable circumstances, in particular those who feared Taliban reprisal because they had worked with US forces.

Video shows last US Afghan strike may have targeted aid worker: NYT

A video analysis shows the United States may have mistakenly targeted an aid worker rather than Islamic State fighters in its final strike in Afghanistan which killed 10 civilians, The New York Times said Friday.

The Pentagon has said it disrupted a new attack planned by the Islamic State extremist group through a Reaper drone strike on August 29 -- the day before US troops ended their 20-year mission and following a devastating attack outside the airport where vast crowds rushed to leave the victorious Taliban.

But Kabul resident Aimal Ahmadi earlier told AFP that the strike killed 10 civilians including his small daughter, nephews, nieces and his brother Ezmarai Ahmadi, who was driving the car that was struck after he parked.

The New York Times, analyzing security camera footage, said the US military may have been seeing the slain Ahmadi and a colleague loading canisters of water, which was in short supply after the collapse of the Western-backed government, and picking up a laptop for his boss.

Ezmarai Ahmadi was an electrical engineer for the California-based aid and lobbying group Nutrition and Education International and himself was among thousands of Afghans who had applied for resettlement in the United States, relatives said.

US officials say that a larger blast took place after the drone strike, showing that there were explosives in the vehicle.

But the New York Times investigation said there was no evidence of a second explosion, with only one dent on a nearby gate and no clear signs of an additional blast such as blown-out walls.

Aimal Ahmadi earlier told AFP that 10 civilians were killed. US officials have acknowledged three civilian deaths but argued that the hit prevented another deadly attack.

Commenting on the report, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that US Central Command "continues to assess" the strike but that "no other military works harder than we do to prevent civilian casualties."

"As Chairman (Mark) Milley said, the strike was based on good intelligence, and we still believe that it prevented an imminent threat to the airport and to our men and women that were still serving at the airport," Kirby said, referring to the top US general.

The New York Times noted that a rocket attack the following morning, claimed by the Islamic State group, was carried out from a Toyota Corolla similar to Ahmadi's.

More than 71,000 Afghan and Pakistani civilians have died directly from the war launched by the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks, with casualties rising dramatically after then president Donald Trump relaxed rules of engagement in 2017, according to a Brown University study in April.

With inputs from AFP.