For the second day in a row, thousands of demonstrators flocked to the streets of Afghanistan to express their displeasure with the Taliban’s sudden takeover, as US President Joe Biden indicated soldiers might be stationed there until all Americans are safely removed.
Officials say three individuals were murdered when Taliban gunmen opened fire on them in Asadabad, which is located in eastern Afghanistan about 110 miles east of Kabul.
The protesters were raising the Afghan national flag in celebration of the country’s independence from Britain on August 19, 1919.
Multiple protesters were also killed Wednesday after clashing with Taliban fighters in Jalalabad, Afghanistan’s fifth-largest city.
“Hundreds of people came out on the streets,” witness Mohammed Salim said, according to India’s News 18. “At first I was scared and didn’t want to go but when I saw one of my neighbors joined in.
“I took out the flag I have at home. Several people were killed and injured in the stampede and firing by the Taliban.”
The militant group entered Kabul and took over the government on Sunday. On Tuesday, group leaders told reporters that they don’t plan to rule Afghanistan with violence and said women and girls will not face the same kind of suppression that occurred during the last Taliban rule in the 1990s.
In some of his first comments since fleeing Afghanistan, former President Ashraf Ghani said that he left the country before the Taliban arrived to avert a “huge plot” against him. He said his security team urged him to leave.
Meanwhile, Biden has said a small group of U.S. security forces might remain in Afghanistan beyond his Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline to make sure all American citizens are safely out of the country.
Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he is dedicated to getting all citizens out and doing all necessary for Afghan civilians who assisted the US forces.
“The commitment is to bring everyone out who we can and everyone who should come out,” Biden added. “That is the goal. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now. That is the road we are taking. And I believe we’ll make it.”
According to Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, a Pentagon official, the US has evacuated around 7,000 civilians from Kabul in the last several days. Another 6,000 people have been readied for evacuation, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
“This is an operation that will continue at as fast a clip as we can possibly manage,” Price said in a briefing Thursday.
Biden has been chastised for the US pullout owing to the quickness with which the Taliban took command. The US withdrawal was largely predicated on an arrangement struck between outgoing President Donald Trump and the Taliban last year to enable troop withdrawal. Biden defended his decision to withdraw forces earlier this week, saying he refuses to commit additional American lives to the 20-year campaign.
On Thursday, British Secretary of State Dominic Raab stated that officials are collaborating with Australia and other countries to get their citizens and Afghan associates out of the country.
“[Britain] and Australia are united in evacuating our nationals and Afghans who have worked for us, and working together for a coordinated international response to tackle security threats and the humanitarian crisis,” Raab tweeted.
In Brussels, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the European Parliament on Thursday that the current state of Afghanistan is “a catastrophe” and “a nightmare.” The European Union is trying to get out 400 Afghans who assisted them over the two decades.
“Let me speak clearly and bluntly: This is a catastrophe,” Borrell said, according to The Washington Post. “This is a catastrophe for the Afghan people, for the Western values and credibility and for the developing of international relations.”
In the United States, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California both requested a confidential briefing on Afghanistan.
McConnell and McCarthy said the Gang of Eight, which includes leaders from both political parties in the House and Senate, as well as bipartisan leaders of both chambers’ intelligence committees, should be briefed on the location of American citizens still in Afghanistan and the status of talks with the Taliban to ensure their safety, among other things.