Taliban blocking access to Kabul airport

Demonstrators protest with Afghan flags in different cities

3 min
Thousands of people wait outside Kabul's military airport to board an evacuation flight

BarcelonaAtifa has just returned home after waiting for nine hours outside the gate of Kabul's military airport. Her voice is tired on the phone. At six o'clock in the morning she received an email with a visa to travel to the United States, and a clear instruction: she had to be at the airport gate at eight o'clock. She grabbed her luggage fast and, with many difficulties, made her way to the airport. Driving there is hell and part of the road is closed to traffic. Even so, she was at the airport gate at the time she had been summoned. But there was nothing. She could not get in. The Taliban prevented access. At one point they even fired shots in the air to disperse the people who were crowding around it.

"I am not just anyone, they know me well at the embassy. I've been waiting three years for my visa", says Atifa, who cannot hide her disappointment, her weariness, her impotence. The Taliban were standing outside the airport gate with their Kalashnikovs, forcing people to retreat by force, while foreign soldiers were inside. No one came out. The U.S. has deployed nearly 5,000 troops at the military airport. "I'm sure they were watching us through the surveillance cameras", Atifa says.

The Kabul airport is divided into two parts. There is a civilian area from where commercial flights used to operate. It is now closed. And there is another military area, which is where military flights took off and landed while international troops were deployed in the country. It's a heavily guarded area: with huge concrete blocks and security cameras on its perimeter. That's where Afghans now have to go to board evacuation flights.

The family of Jawad Fazel, an Afghan translator for the Spanish troops who has lived in Madrid for four years, also gave up and returned home despite the fact that the Spanish embassy had summoned them to board a flight that had to leave Kabul for Spain in the early hours of Thursday morning. The reason was the same: the Taliban prevented them from passing through.

"They beat everyone up, even my mother and my sister. And they even cracked my brother-in-law's head open, who had gone to accompany them by car. They hit him with a kalashnikov", says Fazel, who has followed the mishaps of his family by phone from Barcelona, where he was on Thursday, and could not hide his worried face.

The Taliban did allow access to the airport on Wednesday, although in dribs and drabs. For example, many of those who wanted to travel were asked for money to enter. This Thursday, however, it seemed almost impossible to gain access. This is further proof that the Taliban have the upper hand and are in a strong position to negotiate with the international community. Since Sunday at least twelve people have reportedly died in and around the airport.

Demonstrators protesting against the Taliban on Thursday in Kabul with Afghan flags.

This Thursday was a holiday in Afghanistan because it commemorated the day of independence from the British Empire. In other years, on this date, the government hung Afghan flags from the lampposts of the main avenues of Kabul. This Thursday, the green, red and black Afghan flag was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the white Taliban flag was flying on all official buildings. Still some demonstrators dared to take to the streets to protest.

Pictures of people demonstrating in various cities across the country with the Afghan flag spread on social media. In most cases they were minority protests, but that does not make them any less significant. In the city of Asadabad, in the province of Kunar, in the east of the country, the Taliban reportedly fired some of the demonstrators and several people were killed, according to a Reuters report. And on Wednesday three people were killed in a similar protest in the city of Jalalabad, also in the east. In both cases the demonstrators removed the white flag of the Taliban to recover the tricolor Afghan flag.