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Thousands Of People Still Waiting To Leave Afghanistan


Thousands of people wait inside Kabul's international airport for flights out of Afghanistan. Thousands more wait outside. Secretary of State Blinken says 13 countries have agreed to host Afghans who leave because they're at risk of reprisal from the Taliban. The airport's just a few miles from the center of Kabul, a city of more than 4 million people. And Charlotte Bellis reports for Al Jazeera and joins us now. Thank you, Charlotte, for being with us.

CHARLOTTE BELLIS: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Help us appreciate what the scene is like in the capital its first full weekend under the Taliban.

BELLIS: Well, it's quite bizarre. It's a tale of two halves. At the airport, it remains a crisis point. The Taliban is still in control of all the security around the exterior. They've still been very forceful and, if you want to call it crowd control, shooting into the air, whipping people, beating people. Then, the U.S. are in control of the security inside the airport. And I just spoke with a senior Taliban member who said, we are in constant communication with the Americans, and we are working closely on security, which is quite bizarre to think that they are working together after all these years as enemies to ensure that Americans can evacuate safely.

But it is a moveable feast. They - even this morning, there was an incident where people were bloodied. We're unclear if it's a shooting or a stampede, but they had to close the main gate where Americans are meant to be moving through to get inside the airport. So it's very fluid, the security situation. But in the city, it's very quiet and people have gone back to work. Government employees have gone back to work today. Today is the start of the work week in Afghanistan, and life is very normal.

SIMON: Afghanistan's Independence Day was this week. It commemorates the end of British rule in 1919. The Taliban celebrated it. We have a quote from their statement - "our jihadi resistance forced another arrogant power of the world, the United States, to fail and retreat from our holy territory." We have also heard reports that there have been demonstrations against Taliban rule - for example, in Jalalabad. Do you know of anything in Kabul?

BELLIS: There were some protests in Kabul. There was - I was witness to a loud - you could call it a shooting, but they were shooting towards a crowd to disperse them, protesters. The problem was that Independence Day traditionally is celebrated by people waving the old red, green and black republic flag. But the Taliban have taken down that flag and replaced it with their own flag. But that really only lasted that day. They cracked down, and there really hasn't been much resistance since.

SIMON: Well, what do Afghans tell you? You know, it's been 20 years since the Taliban has been in power. Some people have very vivid memories of repression and coercion and cruelty. Other people, younger people haven't been - seen the Taliban before.

BELLIS: Yeah, there's - especially in Kabul, there's a lot of distrust. In the provinces, it's a different story, and I can't really speak to that because we haven't been able to leave Kabul. But I think the last time I talked to my colleagues and other people who were born here, the experiences of the Taliban were very harsh in the '90s, and so that is what they think of the Taliban as. The Taliban are trying to reassure people by saying, we've changed. We're more progressive now. You can trust us. Please don't run away and get on these evacuation flights. You have amnesty. But for a lot of people in Kabul, it's a big gamble. And that's why you're seeing so many thousands of people flee to the airport because that trust just simply isn't there.

SIMON: Charlotte Bellis of Al Jazeera in Kabul, thanks so much for being with us.

BELLIS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.