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Gunfire at Kabul airport kills 1; Taliban mass near Panjshir

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A firefight at one of the gates of Kabul’s international airport killed at least one Afghan soldier early Monday, German officials said, the latest chaos to engulf Western efforts to evacuate those fleeing the Taliban takeover of the country.

The shooting near the military side of the airport came as the Taliban sent fighters to the north of the capital to eliminate pockets of armed resistance to their lightning takeover earlier this month. The Taliban said they retook three districts that fell the day before and had surrounded Panjshir, the last province that remains out of their control.

Afghanistan’s security forces collapsed in the face of the Taliban advance, despite 20 years of Western aid, training and assistance. But some armed Afghans remain at Kabul airport assisting Western evacuation efforts.

The gunfire broke out near the airport’s northern gate, where at least seven Afghans died a day earlier in a panicked stampede of thousands of people trying to flee the country. The circumstances of the shooting, which occurred around dawn, remained unclear.

The German military tweeted that one member of the Afghan security forces was killed and three others were wounded by “unknown attackers.” It later clarified that it was referring to “members of the Afghan army” involved in securing the airport.

The US military and NATO did not immediately acknowledge the shooting. There was no comment from the Taliban.

The tragic scenes around the airport have transfixed the world. Afghans poured onto the tarmac last week and some clung to a US military transport plane as it took off, later plunging to their deaths. At least seven people died that day, in addition to the seven killed Sunday.

The Taliban blame the chaotic evacuation on the US military, saying there’s no need for Afghans to fear them, even though their fighters shoot into the air and beat people with batons as they try to control the crowds outside the airport perimeter.

The Taliban have pledged amnesty to those who worked with the US, NATO and the toppled Afghan government, but many Afghans still fear revenge attacks. There have been reports in recent days of the Taliban hunting down their former enemies. It’s unclear if Taliban leaders are saying one thing and doing another, or if fighters are taking matters into their own hands.

As the airlift continues, the US government has activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, requesting 18 aircraft from US carriers to assist in transporting Afghan refugees after they are evacuated to other countries. The voluntary program, born in the wake of the Berlin airlift, adds to the military’s capabilities during crises.

Early Monday, a Delta Air Lines flight landed in Dubai and later took off for Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where evacuees are crowded into hangars. A steady stream of military transport planes continue to fly people out of Kabul to airfields across the Mideast.

There also have been concerns that a local Islamic State affiliate might target the crowds outside the airport with suicide bombers or fire missiles at US aircraft. Military planes have been executing corkscrew landings, and other aircraft have fired flares upon takeoff, measures used to prevent missile attacks.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Taliban have faced limited armed resistance from fighters in Baghlan province, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Kabul. The fighters claimed to have seized three districts in the Andarab Valley on Sunday, but the Taliban said Monday that they had cleared them out overnight.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group’s forces have surrounded nearby Panjshir, the only one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces yet to fall to the militants.

Several Taliban opponents have gathered there, including Amrullah Saleh, the vice president in the toppled government who claims to be the acting president under the constitution. Ahmad Massoud, son of the slain commander of the Northern Alliance militias that partnered with the U.S. to drive the Taliban from power in 2001, is also in Panjshir.

In interviews with Arab media outlets over the weekend, Massoud said his fighters would resist any attempt to take the province by force but were open to dialogue with the Taliban.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said there had been no fighting in Panjshir yet and that his group is seeking a “peaceful solution” to the standoff.


IMAGE: In this August 20, 2021, photo provided by the US Marine Corps, US Marines and Norweigian coalition forces assist with security at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint ensuring evacuees are processed safely during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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