A curfew will be imposed “for an indefinite time” over the entire southeastern Afghan city of Khost on Thursday, multiple Taliban sources told CNN on Wednesday, after videos emerged on social media purporting to show hundreds of people there demonstrating against the militant group’s seizure of power.
All kinds of movement will be banned “while joint forces of the Islamic Emirate carry out clearance operations” in the city, one source said. Around 650,000 Afghans are estimated to live in the rural and urban areas of surrounding Khost province.
The rapid shutdown of opposition undermines the Taliban’s repeated attempts to convince international media and observers that their rule will be more restrained and inclusive than it was two decades ago.
But it reflects the reality across the country, where similarly severe approaches have been taken. Tensions are especially heightened because August 19 is Afghanistan’s Independence Day, marking the date Britain relinquished control of the country in 1919.
Afghans poured onto Kabul’s streets with the national black, red and green flag to mark the date on Thursday, in defiance of the Taliban. In some instances they removed the white and black Taliban flag; one witness told CNN the Taliban had fired into the air to try and break up the procession. It is unclear if anyone was injured.
On Wednesday militants fired into the crowd and beat protesters at a similar rally in Jalalabad, where demonstrators had removed the group’s flag from the main square, three witnesses told CNN.
And on the streets of Kabul, women who occupied prominent positions in the past two decades continue to fear for their safety.
At the capital’s airport, where for days images of frantic Afghans looking for escape have underscored the dramatic unraveling of two decades of US involvement in the country, crowds are swelling and locals are struggling to get through Taliban checkpoints and into the facility.
The US embassy in the city warned people on Wednesday evening that it cannot ensure safe passage to the airport. The US has evacuated 1,800 individuals from Afghanistan over the past day, and a total of 6,000 since Saturday, the White House said Wednesday. President Joe Biden, still facing international condemnation for his unapologetic stance on the American withdrawal and the ensuing rise of the Taliban, has suggested US troops could stay past withdrawal deadline to evacuate all Americans.
He did not make the same pledge for Afghan partners, and locals face a chaotic rush to get themselves onto a flight.
After images emerged of mothers handing their babies to British soldiers over barbed wire outside the airport, the UK’s defense minister Ben Wallace said Thursday they cannot take unaccompanied minors. He added it has been “very difficult” for troops “dealing with some desperate people, many of whom are just wanting to leave the country.”
Wallace claimed that the Taliban were “letting our people through” to the processing center “which is good news,” but people CNN spoke with on the ground have reported severe difficulties in accessing the airport, with several saying they were turned away despite having the correct paperwork.
In total 12 people have been killed in and around the airport since the Taliban took control of the capital on Sunday, Reuters reported Thursday, citing NATO sources and Taliban officials.
The deaths were caused either by gunshots or stampedes of people trying to get into the airport in the hope of boarding an evacuation flight, Reuters reported. CNN has been unable to independently verify the reports.
And as the final departure of Western forces looms larger, scenes at the airport are becoming more disorderly. A Dutch evacuation plane was forced to leave with no passengers on Wednesday, while the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has lamented that the bloc cannot rescue all Afghans seeking a way out.
“These people have loyally promoted and defended EU interests in Afghanistan over many years, it’s our moral duty to protect them and to help to save as many people as possible,” he said, conceding: “We cannot take all Afghan people out of the country.”
CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Sarah Dean and Anna Coren contributed reporting.