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Story Publication logo August 15, 2021

Desperate Afghans Try To Flee As Government Collapses, Taliban Take Control


photo of Kabul

Several young Afghans are fighting for their own survival and that of their country as the Americans...

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Afraid for their lives and futures, thousands of Afghans are trying to flee Kabul, scrambling to get visas and flights out of the country as the Taliban take control. Several countries, including the U.S., are trying to get their citizens out of Afghanistan as Kabul plunges into chaos. Special Correspondent Jane Ferguson joins from Afghanistan’s capital.

Read the full transcript:

Hari Sreenivasan: NewsHour Correspondent Jane Ferguson is in Kabul. We spoke after president Ghani had left the country and as the Taliban reportedly entered the streets of the city at about 9:30 PM local time there. Jane, what have you seen in Kabul tonight?

Jane Ferguson:Scenes in the city have been pretty remarkable today. We've seen the Taliban actually enter the city with our own eyes as we were leaving to go out towards the airport area and see around the airport where the evacuations are happening. Around about sunset, we saw the Taliban moving in. We knew there were Taliban elements inside the city, but that largely on the outskirts of the city, Taliban soldiers had been gathering that the Taliban leadership had told them to wait until there's been a negotiated transfer of power before they entered the city. Later in the day, that leadership told them to enter. And they're saying that's because they want them to prevent looting. Let's not forget that tonight no one's really in charge of this city. And that's a very, very scary prospect for the several million people who live here. So the Taliban basically gave the nod to their fighters to enter. As we were driving down the road, we saw Talibs who were fully armed, some of them, many of them with M4 rifles, others that were unarmed, that were coming in in cars. They saw us, looked at us, didn't look very happy to see us, but didn't bother us, let us drive by. All the while, the Afghan security forces were there as well. They were driving in their own trucks in the vicinity of these Taliban fighters, which is a surreal image for anybody, especially journalists who have been covering these two warring sides for so long. So there was clearly a sort of cooperative element to that. And so the population of Kabul right now are bracing themselves because they've seen the ANDSF and the security forces and the police basically leave, a city famous for its checkpoints has emptied of any security presence.

Hari Sreenivasan: I want to ask also about the increased presence of U.S. troops to try to ferry people that are working for the United States government, people who have helped U.S. troops. Where is that process today? We saw pictures of helicopters shuttling people from the U.S. embassy to the airport. Is that still ongoing?

Jane Ferguson: Absolutely. The scenes I've just been describing have been happening literally underneath a sky filled with helicopters flying back and forth. Today has been like nothing anybody, anyone has seen. Those American troops are at the airport. They're not seen in the streets. They're not visible. And I'm sure everybody is aware that the nightmare scenario is that they end up coming into contact or being too close to Taliban fighters. That's going to be the biggest challenge to make sure that does not happen. That's the huge tense flashpoint here, that you have Taliban fighters coming into the city and American troops at the airport. But those we've seen Chinooks and Black Hawk helicopters back and forth over the city at a constant rate because the airport is basically ground zero for getting people out. And there are thousands that need to be gotten out and the time is really running out as the Taliban literally walk into town.

Hari Sreenivasan: Jane, you've reported from the country multiple times. What are some of your sources that you might have spoken to over the years or even on this trip telling you about their life plans? If they're in Kabul right now?

Jane Ferguson: Almost everybody is trying to get out. They're aware that their options are running more and more thin right now. Commercial flights are still going, but the seats are all booked up, as you can imagine. Many of these evacuation flights only apply to people with European or American passports or those who specifically qualify for asylum or SIV visas, such as the interpreters with the U.S. military. Anybody else has to basically hunker down and (try to) help the airport stays open and that eventually they get to leave. People still don't really know if they can trust the Taliban not to enact retribution because no one's quite sure if they can really discipline their foot soldiers not to basically enact that retribution, kill people, you know, arrest people, disappear people. There's a terrible legacy of this kind of treatment in the country. And so many people don't want to wait around and find out.

Hari Sreenivasan:Yesterday, we had a story about some of the female judges that are in Afghanistan. I mean, as a symbol of all of the different types of progress that women and girls had made in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. And around the time of our broadcast, we were also made aware of a couple of statements, warning statements, essentially telling one of the judges in the north that she's on an assassination list. So I'm trying to figure out, how do you have any semblance of normalcy or when you might very well be a target from the people who are literally driving into town right now and you don't have a way out?

Jane Ferguson:It's an absolutely unbearable existence for people who believe they are just sitting ducks. I mean, we've covered this extensively. There has been a massive assassination campaign against women that's been going on ever since the deal was signed between the U.S. government under President Trump and the Taliban for the U.S. drawdown. There's been an assassination campaign that has focused on many different groups, but it's really, really focused heavily on women and professional women, women who have jobs that are influential, women who work within the social sphere, women who work as human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, judges, as you say. So many of them believe that they are marked, that they are going to continue to be a target and that simply laying low and trying to avoid their work, you know, for the next few months is not going to be enough. There's a real fear that they are on lists. And so I think that many people in the city don't feel like they can they can trust anybody that's coming in and saying (that) they won't enact this kind of retribution, because we know that that the Taliban have been assassinating journalists and judges and human rights activists for years. It's not as simple as simply being desperate to move to another country. It's a terrible heartache for people. They don't want to get out. They want to live in Afghanistan and have these careers and raise their families here. I talk to young women all the time. They built those careers in Afghanistan because they wanted a life of service. And so it's very tragic. People want to be able to get out to save themselves, but they don't really want to leave everything behind. So it's a very, very distinct, kind of painful, painful reality for people that that many of them are going through tonight.

Hari Sreenivasan: Jane Ferguson joining us from Kabul tonight. Thanks so much.

Jane Ferguson: Thank you.


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