NPR's Tamara Keith speaks to PBS reporter Jane Ferguson, about the latest on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're continuing to follow events on the ground in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have essentially taken over the country and, at this point, have reached the capital city, Kabul.
TAMARA KEITH, HOST:
The group says it has fighters positioned outside the city as its representatives reportedly negotiate a transfer of power with the Afghan government. PBS NewsHour correspondent Jane Ferguson is in Kabul now and joins us. Welcome to the program, Jane.
JANE FERGUSON: Thanks for having me on.
KEITH: What are you seeing there in the streets of Kabul?
FERGUSON: It has been an incredibly changeable day. The streets have basically fluctuated from relative calm to a deep tension to absolute panic and back again, frankly, throughout the day. We landed in here early this morning at one of the last flights that came in. And the drive from the airport was absolutely packed. The streets were just packed with people in cars. You know, people were trying to get to their loved ones, get home, get to shelter because the sense of uncertainty is what was frightening people. There was no real information about what was coming out.
Since then, there have been many rumors about Taliban fighters engaging in battles in the city center. That doesn't appear to have been the case. And as you've said, we know that the fighters are gathering on the outskirts of the city. And they've been told by the organization - they've been told by the Taliban, do not enter the city whilst we're trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement. That's a very, very - you know, that's not going to be incredibly reassuring to the city's residents, whether or not those foot soldiers are going to always follow orders.
There's a precedent for this in the past. And so that's certainly something that is on people's minds. We've also - we've heard sporadic gunfire, but a lot of that is often panicked security guards. Or it can be, you know, skirmishes between various armed groups in the city. But so far, no big battles. But the loudest noise across this whole city is the deafening sound of helicopters...
KEITH: I was going to say, I think I just...
FERGUSON: ...Flying over at an incredible rate.
KEITH: I feel like I'm hearing helicopters behind you. Is that people being evacuated? What are those sounds that we're hearing?
FERGUSON: Yes. I feel like I don't even hear them anymore because it has become the white noise of Kabul. It is the humming sound of helicopters coming at an incredible rate. You know, they've always flown over the city. For years now, the, you know, U.S. embassy has used helicopters to move people around. But I have never seen an intensity like this. We've been on the roof of our hotel watching them just fly over again and again. Some of them have been firing off flares as well, three at a time. And so it's incredibly dramatic scenes in the skies and something that is, of course, deeply unnerving for the millions of Afghans who live in the city who don't really know, who are clinging to hope that this transition of power, which, of course, seems inevitable right now, can be peaceful.
KEITH: What are the flares for? They sending a signal?
FERGUSON: Essentially, they're trying to secure areas around the airport. I mean, ordinarily, I think these flights would have, these helicopter flights would be more spaced out. There'd be much more order to how this is going on. But now it is such a scramble to get people in. I think that, you know, not only do you have more flights in such a short, short space of time, squeezing the time for security checks, but you also have Taliban on the outskirts of the city amassing. You know, they have weapons. So in terms of threats to flights, there's a very serious concern. And so that's why, like, regular protocol won't be in action today.
KEITH: Aside from those flights, are you seeing any kind of Afghan military or security presence? Is there a defense that you see?
FERGUSON: No, there isn't a heavy presence in the streets that we have seen. When I arrived early this morning, you could see military vehicles driving around, but we didn't see any soldiers in the back of them. So I've been reporting from this city for 12, 13 years now. I've never seen such a lack of security officers or police and army in the street. So it really looks very different in that regard. The big concern is that tonight, you know, this transition that people may get as fast as they can because you don't want to end up with a power vacuum with the ANDSF completely vanishing before whatever is here to replace them comes in.
KEITH: Right. And there are U.S. diplomats. There are people who helped the United States over the last 20 years, all in theory trying to get out with this very uncertain situation.
FERGUSON: Absolutely. I'm still fielding messages and calls from people, former interpreters who didn't get their SIVs in time, female journalists, female filmmakers. Everybody who has worked in Afghanistan is still getting contacted by people who are panicked. They don't know how to get out, and they don't know whether or not time is running out for whatever window there might be for them.
CORNISH: Jane Ferguson, Audie Cornish here. I also want to ask about people of Afghanistan trying to leave. Are you seeing people trying to make any attempt to - I guess, escape would be the word at this point.
FERGUSON: I haven't seen that in Kabul. I mean, don't forget that Kabul is essentially surrounded. So, you know, if you were fleeing the Taliban, where would you go other than the airport? - is a fair question. So we haven't seen, like, mass movement of people who appear to be leaving Kabul. And we know that people have been leaving the country, you know, along border posts, you know, with Iran and in the north. So, you know, we do know that people are trying to get out. But in terms of that having changed significantly today in the capital city, we're not seeing vast changes. We're not seeing, like, a mass onslaught of people rushing to the airport at this stage, probably because (they) are well aware (that) there aren't any flights for them unless they have been put on especially.
CORNISH: That's Jane Ferguson, correspondent with PBS NewsHour. Thank you.
FERGUSON: Thank you.