The Taliban have broadened their security cordon around Kabul airport at the request of the US, following Thursday's devastating attack. The move means Afghans heading for the last evacuation flights encounter more checkpoints.
US Major General Hank Taylor was on the defensive about what information was given to the Taliban on incoming evacuees. The US is coordinating with the Taliban to maintain security at the airport so that evacuations can proceed as scheduled.
When asked, Taylor said that it was important that "Taliban checkpoint leaders have and understand who's coming – what documentation they're supposed to have." He claimed the decision was motivated by a desire to "increase throughput" at Taliban checkpoints and minimize the number of time persons approved for evacuation spend in unsecure parts of Kabul.
However, witnesses said that Taliban guards are becoming more aggressive, especially with women, as the clock ticks down to Biden’s deadline for the American mission in Afghanistan to end. Afghans who have been at the airport painted a grim picture of Taliban fighters firing rounds into the air, reported VOA News.
The Taliban claim to disperse crowds, but several Afghans said they believed the episodic shooting was intimidating and being done to scare them. The Taliban also Saturday fired canisters of colored smoke around parts of the airport, adding to the confusion and mounting fear, said several Afghan civilians.
"They don’t spare women," said a 20-year-old student in a phone call from Kabul. Hamdiya has worked for both the US Embassy in Kabul and a German nongovernmental organization.
Hamdiya said she is currently hiding, too fearful to make a second attempt to leave the country. "They won’t spare us just because we are women," she said, describing what she, her mother and younger sister endured at multiple Taliban checkpoints.
"One Taliban held a gun to my head," said Hamdiya. "We were told we are infidels because we want to go to the United States. I said I wasn’t an infidel, and he said he was going to shoot me," she added.
On Thursday, they made it to the airport just as a suicide bomber struck, leaving 13 US service personnel dead and at least 169 Afghans.
"I was running, and I accidentally tripped over ahead, and it had nobody. I can’t get rid of that image," said Hamdiya. Her mother was also injured in the ISIS-K bombing.
Hamdiya said she has been trying to find assistance to help them navigate the Taliban checkpoints, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. The US State Department Saturday urged American citizens and others to leave the vicinity of Kabul’s airport immediately due to fears of another terror attack.
With the Taliban cordoning off the airport and only allowing a maximum of two members per family to cross checkpoints, her window of opportunity to leave Afghanistan is rapidly closing.
She added that women not accompanied by male relatives are encountering extraordinary hostility from Taliban shooters. "Sometimes I wish I were a man," said Hamdiya. "I am failing. It is very painful."