WASHINGTON — President Biden on Friday promised to bring home any American still trapped in Afghanistan, calling the evacuation effort for Americans and vulnerable Afghans “one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history.”
But he acknowledged that he did not know how many Americans were still in the country, or if they could ultimately be brought out safely.
“Let me be clear: Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,” Mr. Biden said, before adding, “I cannot promise what the final outcome will be, or that it will be without the risk of loss.”
He also remained staunchly committed to his decision to pull U.S. troops from the country, defiantly telling reporters, “Does anybody truly believe that I would not have had to put in significantly more American forces? Send your sons, your daughters, like my son was sent to Iraq, to maybe die?”
Seeking to give a sense of how many people had been flown out of the country in the days since Afghanistan’s collapse, Mr. Biden said that some 18,000 people had been airlifted from the country since July. This week, he said, Afghans — including women leaders — and American journalists — including staff members of The Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal — had been safely removed from the country.
Mr. Biden said that he would commit to airlifting Afghans who had been helpful to the 20-year war effort, but said Americans were his first priority.
The president’s remarks were delivered amid wrenching images of human desperation as people begged to be evacuated from the airport in Kabul, the bottlenecked and sole point of departure for Americans and vulnerable Afghans trying to flee a takeover by the Taliban. The Biden administration has faced an international outcry over how quickly Afghanistan collapsed into Taliban rule as American forces stood down, as well as increasing questions over how much military and intelligence officials knew ahead of time about the tenuous situation on the ground.
Scenes of chaos and desperation, which included a young infant being hoisted over a razor wire fence into the arms of American soldiers, have added to the scrutiny over Mr. Biden’s staunch defense of his decision to pull troops out. Mr. Biden called the images of the past week “heartbreaking,” and said the United States had “6,000 of America’s finest fighting men and women” working to restore order at the Hamid Karzai International airport in Kabul and get people out of the country.
On Friday, Mr. Biden, who had been back and forth from vacation spots at Camp David and Wilmington, Del., took questions for the first time this week, and continued to defend his decision to pull American troops.
“What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with Al Qaeda gone?” Mr. Biden asked in response to a question about whether or not American allies have been critical of the withdrawal effort. “We went and did the mission. You’ve known my position for a long, long time.”
On Thursday, administration officials said that some 3,000 people had been evacuated at the airport in Kabul, including some 350 American citizens. But by Friday afternoon, administration officials said that the surge of evacuees to other countries had created a backup for “third-party countries” processing new arrivals.
“The commander on the ground has issued the order to recommence,” a senior administration official said in a statement on Friday.
But Mr. Biden’s advisers have conceded that, for Americans and Afghans hoping to reach Kabul from cities and towns further afield, safe passage to Kabul is not guaranteed.
“We right now have established contact with the Taliban to allow for the safe passage of people to the airport and that is working at the moment to get Americans and Afghans at risk to the airport,” Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, said in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt on Thursday. “That being said, we can’t count on anything.”
American officials have not publicly said how long they hope the fragile accord will hold ahead of Mr. Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for a total withdrawal.
The effort to evacuate people from Afghanistan, hampered by mayhem in Kabul and delays in Washington, stood in sharp contrast to President Biden’s reassurances on Friday.
With thousands of people inside the Kabul airport waiting for flights and thousands more outside the walls trying — and usually failing — to get in, fear reigned among Afghans who feared being stranded in the country after the Taliban takeover.
The United States has rushed troops and diplomatic reinforcements to the airport in recent days to speed up visa processing for Afghans. American commanders are negotiating daily with their Taliban counterparts — the former insurgents they battled for nearly two decades — to ensure that evacuees can reach the airport.
But crowds are still waiting fearfully outside the airport gates, where Taliban soldiers have attacked people with sticks and rifle butts. As Afghans clutching travel documents camped amid Taliban checkpoints and tangles of concertina wire, anxious crowds were pressed up against blast walls, with women and children being hoisted into the arms of U.S. soldiers on the other side.
The United States will start flying some of the refugees to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the U.S. Embassy in Berlin said. The first plane is expected to land Friday night.
“The evacuees will remain temporarily on the grounds of the military base en route to their longer-term accommodations,” the embassy said in a statement.
Since sweeping into Kabul last weekend, the Taliban have moved swiftly to cement their control over Afghanistan, dispersing protests with force and hunting down opponents despite pledges of amnesty, according to witnesses and a security assessment prepared for the United Nations.
The group’s unpredictability and history of brutality have set off a rush to escape, especially among Afghans who worked alongside U.S. and NATO forces.
Two U.S. officials described growing impatience within the Biden administration over the State Department’s inability to process visas more quickly.
The visa system had a backlog of 17,000 cases when Mr. Biden took office in January. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul was processing at least 100 people each week until June, before a resurgence of the coronavirus in Afghanistan halted the operation.
One of the officials also described how difficult it was for people who had helped the United States to reach the airport safely, given Taliban checkpoints and the masses of Afghans trying to evacuate.
On Thursday, John R. Bass, the former ambassador to Afghanistan, arrived in Kabul with a small group of diplomats to speed up the visa processing. Diplomats are also going to Qatar and Kuwait, where U.S. military bases will serve as way stations for refugees and repatriates before they are sent to another country.
“This is an operation that will continue at as fast a clip as we can possibly manage,” said Ned Price, a State Department spokesman. He said American officials were continuously alerting Afghans who had been cleared to fly, including more than 800 on Wednesday night.
About 5,200 U.S. troops are securing the airport under the command of Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, a former Navy SEAL who speaks to a Taliban counterpart outside the airport several times a day, a Pentagon spokesman said. Troops are also deployed at entrances to the airport, where they are assisting consular officers in reviewing documents, he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the U.S. military had evacuated 7,000 Americans, Afghans and others since Saturday. The pace is well short of the 5,000 to 9,000 passengers a day that the military will be able to fly out once the evacuation is at full throttle, officials said.
“There are tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans literally at the gate,” said Sunil Varghese, the policy director for the International Refugee Assistance Project. “This could have been completely avoided if evacuation was part of the military withdrawal.”
Kabul’s largest mosque, a grand, blue-domed building in the heart of the old city, was overflowing with the faithful for Friday Prayer when a group of Taliban fighters entered.
These were special forces fighters — and an escort for Khalil Haqqani, a member of one of the most powerful networks behind the Taliban’s rise to power and now an integral part of their moves to set up a government.
His protection detail dressed like the commandos in the military of the now deposed Afghan government. They wore uniforms and helmets, had night-vision goggles and carried themselves with a professional deportment.
They cleared a space for Mr. Haqqani in the front row, where he watched — a new American-made M4 assault rifle at his side. After the sermon by the imam of the mosque ended, Mr. Haqqani rose to address those present.
“Our first priority for Afghanistan is security,” he told the crowd, which flowed out onto the street. “If there is no security, there is no life. We will give security, then we will give economy, trade, education for men and woman. There will be no discrimination.”
He was greeted by rapturous cheers.
The scene was a reminder that the Taliban enjoy broad support in many pockets of Afghanistan, although it is hard to know how deep that support runs, as Afghans have long learned to survive by cheering on those who seize power.
“People are happy now, because the Taliban brought security,” said a security guard near a money exchange booth, who declined to give his name. “But these are only the first days. It depends on how they rule whether the people will support them.”
For the moment, Mr. Haqqani basked in the reception. He was the victor and carried himself as such.
In the long and twisted tale of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, few groups have played as important a role as the Haqqani network.
Founded by the renowned mujahedeen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani in the late 1970s, the family’s network is suspected of aiding in Osama bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora in 2001. Khalil Haqqani is Jalaluddin’s brother, and the uncle of the Taliban’s deputy leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani.
After the U.S. invasion, the Haqqani family ran an operation that vexed and complicated the war effort for years.
During the conflict, the Haqqanis refined a signature brand of urban terrorist attacks and cultivated a sophisticated international fund-raising network. It was a major factor in the United States military’s push to keep troops in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani network has kidnapped and held for ransom many foreigners over the years, including a New York Times journalist, his interpreter and their driver, in 2008. The reporter and interpreter escaped after eight months, and the driver a month later.
Khalil Haqqani is on both the U.S. and United Nations terrorist lists. And along with several members of the family, he is now playing a prominent role in the new Taliban regime.
He said that he had been consulting with Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council, and former President Hamid Karzai. One of Mr. Haqqani’s other nephews, Anas Haqqani, was part of the Taliban’s recent diplomatic delegation in Qatar and has also been in direct talks with Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Karzai.
After the sermons concluded and the crowds thinned on Friday, Mr. Haqqani asked to speak with a New York Times photographer working in Kabul.
He said that journalists would be safe now that the country was at peace, and that women, too, would be protected.
“We have good intentions,” he said.
The situation outside the U.S.-controlled north gate at Kabul’s airport remained chaotic and occasionally violent on Thursday and Friday, according to videos reviewed by The New York Times.
One video, posted on Twitter on Thursday evening, showed a packed crowd of people shouting as what appeared to be tear gas and colored smoke wafted through the air.
The crowd fled from the smoke, and the video showed at least three women briefly fall beneath others’ feet.
This is a follow-up video on how life looks like in Kabul right now. Thank you WEST for the democracy you left for Afghans and the “war on terror” you fought in Afghanistan, it reached its true meaning and purpose. #Kabul #Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/58x0Ntz2CL
— Omar Haidari (@OmarHaidari1) August 19, 2021
Another video, which was posted online on Friday but whose date The Times could not verify, appeared to show soldiers from the former Afghan government’s National Directorate of Security firing into the air to control the crowd, just feet from U.S. soldiers.
“Don’t push, don’t push,” one of the N.D.S. soldiers yelled at the crowd.
The N.D.S., which has been implicated in numerous human rights abuses over the years, is attempting to control the crowds at U.S.-held gates. American and British troops are relying, directly or indirectly, on former Afghan government and Taliban fighters to restrict access to the gates, to prevent overcrowding in the airport and make it easier to process people coming through.
Other videos showed infants being passed over the security perimeter to soldiers standing guard inside the airport.
President Biden said on Thursday that nearly 6,000 U.S. troops were at the airport. The Defense Department said it planned to open additional gates to increase the number of people who could get through.
Zir Ur Rahman contributed translation.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. airlift of Americans and Afghan allies out of Kabul hit a new obstacle when a base in the Persian Gulf where evacuees are being housed temporarily reached it limits, Pentagon officials said on Friday.
U.S. military flights out of Kabul’s international airport paused for six hours, after the available space filled up at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where thousands of Afghans are being processed for resettlement in other countries.
The evacuation later resumed, and the Pentagon said that some flights were now heading to bases in other countries, including Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Additional bases are also under consideration.
There have been reports of shortages of food, water and other supplies at Al Udeid, caused by the sudden surge of arrivals. The bottleneck in Qatar created another one in Kabul, as thousands of people who had been allowed into the airport then waited for hours for flights to resume.
Despite the delays, the U.S. military flew some 6,000 people out in a 24-hour period from Thursday to Friday, bringing the total number evacuated since Saturday to 13,000 people, Maj. Gen. William Taylor of the military’s Joint Staff said at a Pentagon briefing. Seventeen military transports took off in that time, in addition to aircraft from other countries and civilian flights.
John F. Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said up to 22,000 Afghans could be relocated temporarily to three military bases in the United States. But the Biden administration has relied on the base in Qatar as a first stop, for further security or health screening that could not be completed in the rush to leave Kabul.
Americans and Afghan allies with approved paperwork have had to make their own way to the Kabul airport, sometimes suffering harassment and beatings at checkpoints, and U.S. officials have said repeatedly that they could not guarantee the safety of anyone trying to reach the airport.
The images are heart-wrenching and hard to understand: in the chaos outside Kabul’s international airport, footage of babies and children being lifted above surging crowds into the waiting arms of U.S. soldiers perched above blast walls.
In videos obtained by The New York Times and in another aired by the BBC and CNN — showing two different moments of desperation — small children are being almost thrown to safety.
The Times video, obtained on Thursday, showed images from Wednesday. It was not clear when the other footage was shot.
It was not clear if their parents had made it to safety, why they could not find another point of entry and just what the American soldiers do after pulling them to safety.
They both reveal how disorganized and unruly the situation outside the airport has been this week, and they underscore the challenge that the United States has in fulfilling its promise to get all Americans and their Afghan allies out of Afghanistan.
They are also certain to add to the growing public anger over the way in which the United States has exited Afghanistan after a 20-year war, leaving behind tens of thousands of Afghans who aided the cause.
The U.S. military is in control of the airport, but not its surroundings. It has turned to several hundred commandos from the former Afghan government’s National Directorate of Security to help evacuate foreigners and Afghans, according to U.S. and former Afghan officials.
The commandos are due to be among the last to leave the country in the evacuation, serving as a rear guard before being airlifted out.
“They are performing heroically,” said one U.S. official.
“That is an understatement,” another responded.
Even as a measure of calm took hold across Kabul, the area around the airport remained dangerous.
There have been conflicting figures on how many people have died in the bedlam this week. Afghans have borne the brunt of the suffering, and many — including those with proper paperwork — are being prevented from reaching airport.
But in a sign of how out of control the situation is, even foreigners whom the Taliban wants to leave the country cannot always reach the facility safely. As thousands desperately try to flee Afghanistan, Taliban fighters have blocked entrances, fired rifles and beaten some people in the crowds.
Most of the violence has been just outside the airport’s main entrance, where crowds trying to get into the airport have met Taliban forces beating them back. There have been volleys of rifle fire, along with pushing, pulling and beating with wooden sticks, Kalashnikovs and hoses.
A German civilian was shot on the journey, Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for the German government, said on Friday.
She said that the victim was in stable condition and being treated for his wounds and would be evacuated as soon as possible.
They have their papers and plans, their children in tow, a few belongings in hand. But the chaos that continues to surround Kabul’s airport means that thousands of people who are trying to catch flights out of Afghanistan cannot reach them.
Entire families are crowding around the airport’s concrete perimeter walls amid discarded luggage, clothes and toys, running short on food and water, some of them under makeshift sun shelters. The approaches are lined with cars abandoned by people who had no choice but to get out and proceed on foot.
Gunfire is such common background noise, people don’t even flinch. Adding to the roar of the giant planes departing from the airport, American fighter jets on patrol screamed overhead.
The 01 Unit of the former government’s feared National Directorate of Security, working in cooperation with American troops, was controlling some entrances to the northern, military side of the airport, from which U.S. military cargo planes ferried people out of the country. According to U.S. and former Afghan officials, the N.D.S. troops, who would be at very high risk of Taliban reprisals, made a deal with the Americans to help with airport security in return for being airlifted out of the country.
Just yards away, Taliban fighters patrolled the access roads and operated checkpoints. Witnesses said both groups — sworn enemies who, just days ago, were trying to kill each other — used force to hold the crowd at bay, firing rifles into the air and pushing and beating people.
“It is impossible to get to the airport — if you keep going and pushing, you may get shot dead and lose your life,” one Afghan man said on Friday. “I saw a teenage girl trampled yesterday. She was dead, and her father was crying.”
The man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety, said he had tried and failed six times in recent days to reach the airport. The crush of people who do not have the paperwork needed to leave prevents access for those who do, he said.
“The rumor is circulating that anyone who makes it to the airport will be evacuated to U.S., Canada and Europe,” he said. “That is why thousands have flooded the airport. The absolute majority are not eligible.”
A woman reached by telephone on Friday, who also did not want her name used for fear of reprisal, said that she was one of 11 people from three families who spent 10 hours at the airport on Thursday but could not get in, despite having the right papers.
The 01 Unit of N.D.S. troops, which had been based in Kabul, “at one point began whipping women to move them away from the gate,” she said. “And a Taliban fighter put a gun on the head of a man, telling him: ‘You’re going to America. Go back to your home or I will shoot you.’”
The woman is from the Hazara ethnic group, who have often suffered from persecution in Afghanistan, and she and others said the 01 Unit was discriminating against Hazaras in airport access.
Kabul was many things on Thursday. The chaos at the airport was matched by calm in other pockets of the city. Some businesses resumed work, and many people were trying to get on with their lives. Others were in hiding, afraid for theirs. Women were scarce. There were signs of some Taliban restraint, but also clear evidence that its members patrolling the streets were not afraid to wield force.
Aside from the vicinity of the airport — which remained a scene of mass desperation and danger — on a drive around Kabul on Thursday morning, the hum of the city had largely returned.
Markets were bustling, and traffic was jammed.
On the north bank of the Kabul River, about two dozen shirtless young men were preparing to engage in a ritual of self-flagellation. They were commemorating Ashura, a holy day that — although peacefully observed by millions of Shiite Muslims across the world — has in some parts of the Middle East been wracked by violence, with attacks by extremists bent on stoking sectarian tensions.
In Afghanistan, those attacks have targeted the predominantly Shia Hazara minority.
The youngest of the group on the Kabul River, a native of Bamiyan Province who identified himself as Mahdi, was just 12. He called an older attendant over and checked the blades on his Teekh, a set of five chains with knives on the edges, attached to a handle that people whip themselves with in the ceremony.
“OK, they’re nice and sharp — good work,” he said. “I am not afraid of the Taliban. They have no business with me — why would they harm me?”
As military evacuation planes buzzed overhead, the flagellation began, and the blood started flowing.
While Afghanistan has been beset by its own suffering in recent years, the bloodletting is meant to pay tribute to a fight centuries ago: In the year 680 in what is now the Iraqi city Karbala, the army of Yazid slaughtered Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and cut off his head.
The Taliban are known for their uncompromising and harsh interpretation of Islam, and brutally persecuted the Hazara when in power from 1996 to 2001 — including a massacre of an estimated 2,000 people in 1998. But on Thursday they offered protection so that the ceremony could take place in safety.
Nearby, from the shadow of a drinks stall wrapped in black cloth and ornate with green and red flags, three Taliban members watched placidly.
Their commander, a turbaned man named Ahmad Zia, his beard dyed pitch-black, did not have an assault rifle slung around his shoulder — an oddity among the thousands of Taliban fighters who have flooded the city since Sunday.
Calm and with a swagger easily recognized as coming from the country’s south, he was chatting away with a few younger bystanders.
“I’ve been with the Mujahedeen for the last 12 years. Three days ago, I arrived from Helmand Province, I am from Musa Qala myself,” he said, referring to a district long infamous for being the Taliban’s headquarters in the country. “We are here to provide security 24 hours a day. People can carry on with their lives now.”
That sentiment was echoed at the entrance of a nearby mosque.
Nooria Jaan, a 30-year-old housewife, had come to the center of the city to observe the Ashura commemorations.
“I’m really happy right now,” she said. “This year Ashura is really peaceful. The criminals have disappeared overnight. There is no more crime.”
But later that afternoon in another part of town, the loud burst of machine-gun fire pierced the quiet.
A group of young men had tried to raise the tricolor flag of the ousted Afghan government. Their efforts atop a hill were violently broken up by Taliban foot soldiers, who let loose a volley of gunfire.
Three people had been shot.
One of the wounded sat in the passenger seat of a gray Toyota Corolla, its windows shattered from the bullet impact.
Another injured protester staggered down the hill, blood dripping from his hair and down his neck.
“The end of a Taliban rifle” he said, relating how he had been beaten.
As darkness fell over the city, sporadic gunfire continued.
BRUSSELS — NATO foreign ministers on Friday called on the Taliban to allow those who wish to leave Afghanistan to do so and said that they were working to make it easier for Afghans to reach and enter the international airport there. They vowed that the allies would remain in “close operational coordination through allied military means” while the evacuations continue.
Meeting by videoconference, the foreign ministers discussed the difficulties with the evacuation of their citizens and of Afghans who have aided the allied effort there and want to leave. In a joint statement, the 30 foreign ministers urged “those in positions of authority in Afghanistan to respect and facilitate their safe and orderly departure, including through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.’’
Speaking after the meeting, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, said that the problem was not the availability of planes but the difficulty in filling them. “The main challenge we face,” he said, “is ensuring that people can reach and enter Kabul airport.” There have been reports that the Taliban are hunting Afghans who worked with NATO and other foreign governments and aid agencies.
“We expect the Taliban to allow for the safe passage of all foreign nationals and Afghans seeking to depart the country,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “This is the most urgent task today.”
There are worries that the Taliban will intensify the screening of Afghans trying to reach the airport and will not allow the evacuations to go on indefinitely. President Biden has said the evacuation would be completed by the end of August, but some other countries have asked Washington to extend that date.
Mr. Biden softened his stance a bit this week, saying that the flights would continue as long as needed to airlift American citizens, but he has made no similar promise concerning Afghan nationals.
There have been strains among NATO members during the evacuation, with German nationals saying that American troops would not let them into the airport, at least temporarily.
On Thursday, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, spoke to President Biden and told him that the Americans were making the repatriation process in Kabul quite difficult for other nations and asked for more cooperation at the airport, French officials said.
The ministers also repeated a warning to the Taliban not to allow “international terrorists” safe haven in Afghanistan from which to launch attacks against the West, as they did a generation ago with Al Qaeda.
“We will not allow any terrorists to threaten us,’’ they said. “We remain committed to fighting terrorism with determination, resolve, and in solidarity.”
Mr. Stoltenberg said that the ministers also agreed to hold an investigation of NATO’s 20-year involvement in Afghanistan and draw “cleareyed” lessons about how it failed and where it might have succeeded, he said.
As the Taliban cement their control over Afghanistan, there is a deepening fear among the country’s religious and ethnic minorities that the gains they made over the past two decades could be lost and that they could again find themselves the target of persecution.
Many Hazaras — Shiite Muslims who are estimated to make up 10 to 20 percent of the country’s population — worry that atrocities of the past will be revisited despite assurances from the Taliban leadership that they have changed.
“We are extremely worried and scared. Taliban have a history of violence against us,” one Hazara man who lives in Kabul said by telephone, not wanting his name used in public for fear of reprisals. “Now I feel I am a target for them. I don’t leave home unless it is very necessary.”
He said local Taliban officials had assured residents that civilians would not be targeted as they entered the area. But he said they had broken that promise. His father-in-law was killed by militants in Ghazni Province after the Taliban captured the area last month.
“He had not harmed anyone, he was just a teacher, a religious scholar and an educator,” he said of his father-in-law.
As the Taliban swept across Afghanistan this summer in advance of their blitz that culminated in the fall of Kabul, an investigation by Amnesty International has found evidence of the slaughter of nine Hazara men, raising fears of more bloodletting to come.
“On-the-ground researchers spoke to eyewitnesses who gave harrowing accounts of the killings,” which took place in early July in Ghazni Province, according to the report. “Six of the men were shot, and three were tortured to death, including one man who was strangled with his own scarf and had his arm muscles sliced off.”
One witness said villagers had asked the fighters why they inflicted such brutality on people. The answer from a fighter, the witness said, was that “in a time of conflict, everyone dies.”
The killings took place before the Taliban issued a blanket amnesty in Kabul this week, promising no reprisal killings and safety for all Afghans. It is difficult to know what is happening in much of the country since cellphone service has been cut in places and many journalists have fled or are in hiding. But there have been no reports of wide-scale attacks on Hazaras since Sunday.
And on Thursday, Taliban soldiers provided security in Kabul as Hazara men commemorated Ashura, a Shia holy day.
Yet the last time the Taliban swept to power, they exacted revenge on the Hazara population after taking control of Mazar-i-Sharif, a city in the north.
“Within the first few hours of seizing control of the city, Taliban troops killed scores of civilians in indiscriminate attacks, shooting noncombatants and suspected combatants alike in residential areas, city street sand markets,” according to an investigation by Human Rights Watch. “Witnesses described it as a ‘killing frenzy.’”
This time around, one of the Taliban militants’ first acts after taking control of the country was to blow up a statue of the Shiite militia leader Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamiyan Province, the Hazaras’ unofficial capital.
And with many Hazaras having adopted liberal values over the past two decades, said a Hazara woman who works for the government, “the threat we face now is much more serious than the 1990s.”
“I am worried about my and my family’s life,” she said, speaking by telephone from Kabul on the condition of anonymity, fearing for her safety.
“Hazara women have a strong presence in the society: They are university students, working outside, and are visible in the streets,” she said. “And this is exactly the opposite of what the Taliban want.”
Facebook says it has added several security features to help people in Afghanistan control their accounts as fears rise of reprisals from the Taliban.
In a series of tweets late Thursday, Facebook’s head of security said the company had temporarily disabled the ability to view and search the friends lists of Facebook accounts inside Afghanistan. He also said the platform, which is seeing a proliferation of new Taliban accounts despite a ban on the group, had provided a tool to help Afghans quickly lock their accounts if they feared being targeted.
The unprecedented measures target one of the most fundamental Facebook features: the friends list. They represent a frank acknowledgment from the company, which has long touted its ability to connect the world, of the risks of having personal information available on social networks.
Since the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan this week, their promises of amnesty and reconciliation have been undermined by reports that their soldiers are engaging in reprisal attacks and forcibly cracking down on protests.
In the days since the militants took over cities including Kabul, the capital, many Afghans have shuttered their social media accounts and deleted messages out of fear that their digital footprints could make them targets of the former insurgents. In the past, the Taliban have meted out brutal retribution against Afghans with ties to the country’s former government or Western countries such as the United States.
The Taliban have nevertheless become sophisticated users of social media. During the summer offensive that catapulted them to power, they used social media platforms to spread their messages.
Facebook’s head of security, Nathaniel Gleicher, also urged people with friends in Afghanistan to consider tightening their own privacy settings.
The social network’s strict bans on the Taliban have pushed many of its most influential voices and officials to Twitter. Still, the platform has struggled to keep out all accounts. Dozens of new ones have appeared on the site in recent days, presenting the company with the difficult question of how to regulate a group that now controls Afghanistan.
Taliban officials have promised to protect the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, and its valuable collection of cultural artifacts, the museum’s director said in an interview on Thursday.
The Taliban posted a small group of armed guards outside the museum to prevent looting, according to the director, Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, who said he had met with Taliban officials on Wednesday.
“Had there been fighting, it could have been a disaster and could have destroyed a lot of things here and many monuments throughout the country,” Mr. Rahimi said. “We are a bit fortunate for now that the change of power has not cost such death and destruction.”
“We still have great concern for the safety of our staff and our collection,” he added.
The National Museum suffered greatly in the 1990s as civil war led to looting and the destruction of most of its buildings. After the Taliban were ousted in 2001, officials at the museum reported that the militants had confiscated or destroyed many thousands of objects in its collection — largely Buddhist statues and other relics that were deemed un-Islamic and idolatrous.
Many other objects were looted by criminal groups and smuggled overseas.
Mr. Rahimi said the Taliban had told him they would not enter the museum, which has been indefinitely closed.
He said that the museum had a contingency plan for moving its collection to safe locations, but that it had not put it into action because of the Taliban’s rapid takeover.
As the United States and its allies struggle to accelerate efforts to get people at risk of Taliban reprisals out of Kabul, some international relief organizations are struggling to get urgently needed supplies in.
“We are running out of supplies and are scrambling now to see how we can get the next shipment in,” Richard Brennan, the World Health Organization’s regional emergencies chief, said on Friday.
The group’s stocks have dwindled to little more than a week’s supply. It has more sitting in Doha, but no commercial flights operating to Kabul to take them.
Amid intense news media coverage of tragic scenes at Kabul airport, “the bigger humanitarian picture has been lost,” he said.
Afghanistan was the site of the world’s third biggest humanitarian disaster before the government’s collapse on Sunday, with 18 million people in need of aid.
Now, after days of turmoil, aid agencies are starting to resume operations, navigating a vacuum in the central government and concerns over security with the help of Taliban contacts established long ago in provinces across Afghanistan.
The W.H.O. has access to all Afghan provinces, they said, noting that the Taliban authorities had communicated that they want all of their workers, including women, back at work.
The Taliban have posted guards outside some health facilities to provide security.
With about 14 million people, including two million children, at risk of going hungry, the U.N.’s World Food Program said it was involved in meetings with the Taliban authorities who want the organization to resume work and deliveries.
In February 2020, eager to remove American troops from Afghanistan by the end of his term, President Donald J. Trump struck a deal with the Taliban: U.S. forces would leave in return for Taliban promises not to harbor terrorists and to engage in direct negotiations with the Afghan government.
Mr. Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, attended the signing ceremony in Doha and posed for a photo alongside the Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar
Some former senior Trump officials now call that agreement fatally flawed, saying it did little more than provide cover for a pullout that Mr. Trump was impatient to begin before his re-election bid. They also say it laid the groundwork for the chaos unfolding now in Kabul.
“Our secretary of state signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban,” Mr. Trump’s second national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said of Mr. Pompeo in a podcast interview on Wednesday. “This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves.”
The photo of Mr. Pompeo resurfaced this week on social media as the Taliban asserted control of Afghanistan. Mr. Baradar is widely expected to become the head of a new Taliban government based in Kabul.
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, former Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said that while President Biden “owns” the ultimate outcome in Afghanistan, Mr. Trump had earlier “undermined” the agreement through his barely disguised impatience to exit the country with little apparent regard for the consequences.
Protests were staged in cities around the world this week as fears grew that tens of thousands of Afghans could be left to suffer under the Taliban.
A member of Afghanistan’s national youth soccer team was among the people who were killed as they tried desperately to cling to a U.S. military plane evacuating people from Kabul this week, the country’s official sports federation said on Thursday.
His name was Zaki Anwari, and he was 17.
On Monday, a crowd of Afghans surged onto the tarmac of the international airport in the frantic scramble to escape a country newly overrun by the Taliban. In a scene that shocked the world, and in just one wrenching moment encapsulated the chaos of America’s exit from Afghanistan, some of them chased aircraft carrying Americans and tried to climb onto their sides, wings and wheels.
The young soccer player was among them, the federation said.
“Anwari was one of hundreds of young people who wanted to leave the country and, in an incident, fell off an American military plane and died,” the group said in a statement on Facebook.
The sports community of Afghanistan was in grief, the statement said. It wished Zaki a place in heaven and offered a prayer that God grant his family, friends and teammates peace and patience as they mourn.
The federation posted photos of Zaki wearing his team’s red jersey — he was No. 10 — and standing on a soccer field. Another photo showed him in a suit and tie. Beside them were photos of an airborne U.S. military plane with what appeared to be a falling body and a single red rose.
Video taken on Monday showed at least two bodies dropping to the ground from an airplane shortly after it took off. The Pentagon confirmed that two people had died falling from the plane, and body parts were also discovered in the landing gear of the aircraft after it landed in Qatar.
In a telephone interview on Thursday from Kabul, Aref Peyman, the head of media relations for the sports federation and for Afghanistan’s Olympic Committee, confirmed Zaki’s death.
Mr. Peyman said Zaki had come from a low-income family in Kabul and had worked hard to achieve his dream of being on the national soccer team while also attending school.
“He was kind and patient, but like so many of our young people he saw the arrival of the Taliban as the end of his dreams and sports opportunities,” Mr. Peyman said. “He had no hope and wanted a better life.”
Many Afghans took to social media to voice shock and anger.
“Shame on the Taliban,” wrote Marzieh Zal on the federation’s Facebook page.
“Rest in peace dear Zaki, I cannot believe you are not with us anymore,” wrote Mohammad Sharif Ahmadi in another post.
The rapid collapse of Afghanistan to Taliban control set off panic among many Afghans, including athletes, who feared that a return of extremist religious rule would bring about the end of their careers and other opportunities.
One Olympic athlete, the sprinter Kamia Yousufi, 25, who carried Afghanistan’s flag at the opening ceremony in Tokyo, has since fled to Iran, media reports said. Mr. Peyman confirmed those reports.
President Biden has come under sharp criticism for how the U.S. military has withdrawn from Afghanistan after a 20-year occupation. Mr. Biden has defended his handling of the exit. In an ABC News interview, he was also asked about the people who died clinging onto the plane and dismissed the question.
“That was four days ago, five days ago,” he said.
For more than a decade, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music has stood as a symbol of the country’s changing identity. It trained hundreds of young artists in artistic traditions that were once forbidden by the Taliban, and formed an all-female orchestra that performed widely in Afghanistan and abroad.
But in recent days, as the Taliban have again consolidated control over Afghanistan, the school’s future has been thrown into doubt.
Several students and teachers said in interviews that they feared that the Taliban, who have a history of attacking the school’s leaders, would seek to punish people affiliated with the school as well as their families. Several female students said they had been staying inside their homes since Kabul, the capital, was seized on Sunday.
Some said they worried that the school will be shut down and that they will not be allowed to play again — even as a hobby.
“My concern is that the people of Afghanistan will be deprived of their music,” Ahmad Naser Sarmast, the head of the school, said in a telephone interview. “There will be an attempt to silence the nation.”
The Taliban banned most forms of music when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. This time, they have promised a more tolerant approach, vowing not to carry out reprisals against their former enemies and saying that women will be allowed to work and study “within the bounds of Islamic law.”
But their history of violence toward artists and their general intolerance for music without religious meaning has sowed doubts among many performers.
As the United States and other countries accelerate efforts to get Afghan allies out of the country, Afghan journalists employed by foreign news organizations are facing a more perilous route to safety from the Taliban, and some have been killed.
Despite assurances of amnesty by the regime, a growing number of reports indicate that Taliban are searching for Afghan reporters and in some cases targeting them or members or their families.
The German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported on Thursday that Taliban soldiers who were searching for one of their reporters had killed one member of his family and severely injured another.
“The Taliban are obviously conducting organized searches for journalists in Kabul and provinces,” the director of Deutsche Welle, Peter Limbourg, said in a statement. “Time is running out.”
The broadcaster, along with several other leading German media outlets, urged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to help them secure passage out of Afghanistan for its employees and their families.
“This letter is a cry for help,” the outlets wrote in an open letter this week. “The lives of our local staff are in acute danger.”
Last week, Amdullah Hamdard, 33, who learned English as a teenager and translated for U.S. Special Forces — they gave him the nickname “Huggy Bear” — had spent the last four years working with Die Zeit newspaper. He was murdered by Taliban fighters on the street near his home in Jalalabad, the paper reported.
In recent days, the publishers of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post banded together on evacuation efforts for staff members and their families. Security personnel and editors shared information on morning calls. The publishers called on the Biden administration to help facilitate the passage of their Afghan colleagues, and discussions ensued with officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department.
This week, the first local employees of the three organizations flew out of the country after days of delays. For a group of 128 people from The Times, a breakthrough came when Qatar, a country with ties to both Afghanistan and the United States, agreed to help get them to safety.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman, told a gathering of reporters on Tuesday that media outlets “can continue to be free and independent,” although he that added “Islamic values should be taken into account.”
But on Thursday, Taliban fighters beat two Afghan journalists while violently dispersing a protest in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog group, noted other attacks against journalists in recent days, including the fatal shooting on Aug. 9 of a radio station manager in Kabul, and the kidnapping of a reporter in Helmand Province. Afghan press freedom groups blamed the Taliban for both incidents.
An American journalist, Wesley Morgan, tweeted this week that the Taliban had searched the house of an Afghan interpreter he worked with. The interpreter, who was not at home, watched the search unfold on security footage sent to an app on his phone, Mr. Morgan said.
The director general of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, called on the Taliban to uphold their promises of protecting journalists and a free press. The organization has helped develop Afghanistan’s media over the past 20 years, including journalism education and gender-sensitive reporting.
“UNESCO urges that the important progress made should not be undone and in particular that women journalists must be able to continue their crucial work,” Ms. Azoulay said.