Doha, Qatar — A fresh challenge to Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers triggered a heavy-handed response on Tuesday.
Taliban gunmen fired weapons into the air to break up a demonstration in the capital against the group’s takeover of the country. But even as the Taliban faces defiance, the U.S. government is actively working with the group to try and ensure a safe escape for Americans still stuck on Afghan soil.
The protest in Kabul was sparked by the Taliban’s apparent capture of Afghanistan’s last bastion of resistance, Panjshir province. As CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports, anti-Taliban protests have been growing in size and fury by the day.
© Provided by CBS News Taliban claims total control over Afghanistan… 02:22
Heavy gunfire was heard in the capital as the Islamic fundamentalists fired to disperse the crowds, sending people scrambling. The protesters included many women, shouting “freedom,” and others yelling “Death to Pakistan” over that country’s meddling in Afghanistan and perceived backing of the Taliban.
Amid continued reports that the Taliban is detaining, beating and even killing people who test its strict rules, there was another demonstration held in the north of the country in support of women’s rights. Every protest is a bold gamble against a regime known for its extreme brutality.
As the Taliban tightens its grip on power, the U.S. State Department said an American family of four had been able to flee the country over a land border. But there was growing outrage over Americans and Afghans still stranded in Afghanistan.
© Provided by CBS News A Taliban soldier covers his face during an anti-Pakistan protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 7, 2021. / Credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/Reuters
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that there were still believed to be “somewhere around 100” U.S. citizens wanting to escape from Afghanistan.
Satellite images have shown six evacuation planes at the Mazar-i-Sharif airport, north of Kabul, amid accusations from U.S. politicians and a non-profit group that the Taliban have been preventing their departure for nearly a week.
Marina LeGree, founder of Ascend Athletics, a group helping Afghan women and girls who are trying to get out, told CBS News that she believes the U.S. government could be doing more to help, even without an official presence on the ground in the country now.
© Provided by CBS News Taliban preventing stranded Americans from le… 02:36
“The U.S. government has contacts with the Taliban. I mean, these are the same people we’ve been negotiating with for a very long time in Doha,” LeGree said. “Surely there’s some outreach that could be done and some levers that could be pulled to release these people.”
When CBS News asked Taliban officials about the planes waiting to depart on Monday, they would only say they were “looking into it.”
Whatever levers the Biden administration can still pull, they’re likely still in the Qatari capital of Doha, where Secretary of State Blinken was on Tuesday, thanking the Qataris for their help with the chaotic evacuation effort that ended on August 31.
© Provided by CBS News From left, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Qatari Defense Minister Dr. Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani hold a joint news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Doha, Qatar, September 7, 2021. / Credit: POOL/REUTERS
The Qatari government has long acted as an intermediary between the Taliban and the U.S. government, and it was clear from Blinken’s remarks on Tuesday that Doha’s role remained critical to American interests.
After talks with his Qatari counterparts, Blinken told reporters that the U.S. was still talking to the Taliban, and that the group had given renewed assurances that anyone seeking to flee Afghanistan who is in possession of valid travel documents would be allowed to do so safely. He said the U.S. and its allies would hold the Taliban to that pledge.
Blinken said the State Department was working with Afghanistan’s new rulers to facilitate more evacuation flights, and specifically in Mazar-i-Sharif, where the planes have been waiting on the tarmac, he attributed the delay to a mix of people trying to board the planes, including many who may not have proper documentation to travel, and a lack of U.S. personnel on the ground.
© Provided by CBS News A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows six planes on the tarmac at the airport in Mazar-i-Sharif, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. / Credit: Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies
“We don’t have people on the ground in Kabul or Mazar-i-Sharif” to vet hopeful travelers, said Blinken, adding that the U.S. government was still working “through various initiatives” and would “continue to engage” the Taliban to resolve the issues.
He said those hoping to travel from Mazar-i-Sharif included many “people grouped together, some with proper travel documents” and others without. He said it was his “understanding” that the Taliban was only denying travel to those who lacked valid documentation, and he pointed to the American family who were allowed to leave on Monday as evidence.
Blinken confirmed that there were a “small number of Americans trying to leave from Mazar-i-Sharif,” but rejected the claim by a Republican politician over the weekend that Americans were being held in the city by the Taliban as leverage in negotiations with the U.S.
There is “no hostage situation,” Blinken said.