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The latest from Afghanistan: Pakistan's state airline halts flights to Kabul
Published in Ahram Online on 16 - 08 - 2021

Pakistan's state-run airline says it has halted all flights to Afghanistan's capital of Kabul because of the ``uncertain security situation'' there.
Spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said Monday that Pakistan International Airlines decided to protect passengers, the crew and the planes after consulting the Afghan civil aviation authorities.
He spoke as embassies scrambled to evacuate personnel and Afghan employees through the airport. On Sunday, Taliban militants ended two decades of Western-backed government after a blitz through Afghanistan.
Videos on social media showed chaos at Kabul International Airport overnight, with the crack of occasional gunfire and hundreds of panicked Afghans running across the tarmac. By morning, advisories sent by civil aviation authorities announced the ``civilian side'' of the airport had been ``closed until further notice.''
Early Monday morning, flight-tracking data showed no immediate commercial flights over the country.
MILAN - Italy's has evacuated 70 embassy staff and Afghan employees from the capital city of Kabul. The plane was scheduled to arrive in Rome on Monday. Video taken at Kabul's international airport and released by the Italian Defense Ministry shows people walking up a mobile staircase to board the plane in darkness.
The evacuation is part of Italy's Operation Aquila Omnia (Eagle Ready for Anything) to quickly evacuate Italian diplomatic staff, citizens and Afghan employees and family members.
Italy had one of the largest contingents in Afghanistan before the pullout.
Italian journalist Francesca Mannocchi, who was on the plane, said that it was carrying 20 Afghan embassy employees and their families, including women and children. Prior to the Taliban advance, 228 Afghanis and their families had been transferred to Italy.
Officials declined to give number of how many remained, but Italian media reported over the weekend that some 390 Afghan citizens and their family members were awaiting evacuation.
The first Czech evacuation flight has taken off from Kabul's international airport and landed in Prague.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis said 46 people were on board Monday's flight.
They included Czech nationals, the Afghan staffers at the Czech embassy and Afghan interpreters who helped the Czech armed forces during NATO missions together with their families.
Babis didn't immediately provide more details. It's not clear how many such flights will follow.
Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek tweeted that given the deteriorating situation at Kabul's airport, it was ``a miracle'' that the Czech flight managed to take off.
Local media reported that thousands of people were gathered at the Kabul airport to leave the country.
In an earlier joint statement, the U.S. Pentagon and State Department said the American military would take over air-traffic control at the airport.
Saudi Arabia says it has evacuated all its diplomats from its embassy in the Afghan capital, and New Zealand's government is sending a plane to help its people leave the country.
Saudi Arabia said all staff were evacuated from the embassy in Kabul on Sunday due to the changing conditions on the ground, joining other countries that have also shuttered their embassies as the Taliban advance on the Afghan capital.
New Zealand's government says its sending a C-130 Hercules military transport plane to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of 53 New Zealanders and dozens of Afghanis and their immediate families who helped New Zealand troops when they were stationed there.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said they had so far identified 37 Afghanis who had helped, but the number of evacuees would be in the hundreds once dependents and others were included.
Defense officials say they have planned for a monthlong mission involving at least 40 military personnel tasked with servicing and protecting the plane. Ardern asked that the Taliban allow people to leave peaceably: ``The whole world is watching,'' she said.
WASHINGTON _ Dozens of nations are calling on all involved in events in Afghanistan to respect and facilitate the departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country.
More than 60 nations released a joint statement Sunday night citing what they call ``the deteriorating security situation'' in Afghanistan. The statement says that those in power and authority across the country ``bear responsibility _ and accountability _ for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order.''
The nations' statement also says that roads, airports and border crossings must remain open, and that calm must be maintained.
The statement concludes: ``The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity. We in the international community stand ready to assist them.''
The statement was distributed to U.S. media by the State Department.
SEOUL, South Korea _ South Korea's Foreign Ministry said it has ``temporarily closed'' its embassy in Kabul and evacuated most of its staff to an unspecified third country in the Middle East.
The ministry said a few diplomats, including Ambassador Choi Taeho, remain at a safe location in Afghanistan to support the evacuation of a South Korean national in the country and that the Seoul government is closely working with the United States and other countries to ensure their safe evacuation.
Afghanistan has been on South Korea's travel ban list since 2007. There were reportedly around five South Koreans living in Afghanistan before the Seoul government in June called for all of them to leave the country within 10 days as the United States and NATO proceeded with troop pullouts.
WASHINGTON _ A State Department official says the American flag is no longer flying at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul amid evacuations from Afghanistan's capital. The official tells The Associated Press that nearly all embassy personnel have been relocated to the city's international airport.
The official says the flag itself is with embassy personnel, who are among thousands of Americans and others waiting for flights. The official was not authorized to discuss the details publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity
In a joint statement Sunday night, the State Department and the Pentagon say they are taking steps to secure the airport for safe departures by way of civilian and military flights.
The statement says the U.S. security presence will have expanded to nearly 6,000 troops over the next two days and will take over air traffic control.
Those leaving include American citizens who have been living in Afghanistan, locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families, and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals.
Also part of the departure plan are thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. special immigrant visas. Nearly 2,000 of those with special visas have arrived in the United States over the past two weeks.
WASHINGTON _ President Joe Biden and other top U.S. officials have been stunned by the pace of the Taliban's nearly complete takeover of Afghanistan, as the planned withdrawal of American forces urgently became a mission to ensure a safe evacuation.
The speed of the Afghan government's collapse and the ensuing chaos posed the most serious test of Biden as commander in chief, and he was the subject of withering criticism from Republicans who said that he had failed.
Biden campaigned as a seasoned expert in international relations and has spent months downplaying the prospect of an ascendant Taliban while arguing that Americans of all political persuasions have tired of a 20-year war, a conflict that demonstrated the limits of money and military might to force a Western-style democracy on a society not ready or willing to embrace it.
By Sunday, though, leading figures in the administration acknowledged they were caught off guard with the utter speed of the collapse of Afghan security forces. The challenge of that effort became clear after reports of sporadic gunfire at the Kabul airport prompted Americans to shelter as they awaited flights to safety.
UNITED NATIONS _ U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging the Taliban and all other parties to exercise ``utmost restraint'' in order to protect the lives of Afghans and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Sunday that ``the United Nations remains determined to contribute to a peaceful settlement, promote the human rights of all Afghans, notably women and girls, and provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and critical support to civilians in need.''
The U.N. humanitarian office said members of the humanitarian community _ both from the U.N. and non-governmental organizations _ remain committed to helping the millions of Afghans needing assistance and are staying in the country despite the ``highly complex'' security environment.
The office, known as OCHA, said in a statement Sunday that more than 18.4 million people were already in need of assistance before more than 550,000 people were displaced by conflict this year, a figure that doubled since May.
KABUL, Afghanistan _ A Taliban spokesman and negotiator tells The Associated Press that the militant group is holding talks aimed at forming an ``open, inclusive Islamic government'' in Afghanistan.
Suhail Shaheen spoke to the AP after the Taliban overran most of the country in a matter of days and pushed into the capital, Kabul, as the United States scrambled to withdraw diplomats and other civilians.
Earlier, a Taliban official said the group would announce a new government from the presidential palace, but those plans appear to be on hold.
WASHINGTON _ The United States is sending another 1,000 troops to Afghanistan, raising the U.S. deployment to roughly 6,000.
A defense official tells The Associated Press on Sunday that 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne are going directly to Kabul instead of going to Kuwait as a standby force. The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a deployment decision not yet announced by the Pentagon.
On Saturday, President Joe Biden authorized the U.S. troop deployment to rise to roughly 5,000 by adding about 1,000. Since then, the Taliban have entered the capital of Kabul and Afghanistan's president has fled the country.
Helicopters have been evacuating personnel from the U.S. Embassy, and several other Western missions also are preparing to pull their people out.

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