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Afghanistan turmoil

Evacuations from Afghanistan gather momentum as Taliban promise peace

Military flights carry over 2,200 people out of Kabul

An Afghan family arrives at Frankfurt Airport in Germany on Aug. 18 after being evacuated from Kabul.   © Reuters

KABUL (Reuters) -- More than 2,200 diplomats and other civilians have been evacuated from Afghanistan on military flights, a Western security official told Reuters on Wednesday, as efforts gathered pace to get people out after the Taliban seized the capital.

The Taliban have said they want peace, will not take revenge against old enemies and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law. But thousands of Afghans, many of whom helped U.S.-led foreign forces over two decades, are desperate to leave.

"We are continuing at a very fast momentum, logistics show no glitches as of now," the Western security official said.

It was unclear when civilian flights would resume, he said.

The official said those getting out included diplomatic staff, foreign security staff and Afghans who worked for embassies.

He did not give a breakdown of how many Afghans were among the more than 2,200 people to leave, nor was it clear if that tally included more than 600 Afghan men, women and children who flew out on Sunday, crammed into a U.S. military C-17 cargo aircraft.

The Taliban, fighting since their 2001 ouster to expel foreign forces, seized Kabul on Sunday after a lightning offensive as U.S.-led Western forces withdrew under a deal that included a Taliban promise not to attack them as they leave.

U.S. forces running the airport had to stop flights on Monday after thousands of frightened Afghans swamped the airfield looking for a flight out. Flights resumed on Tuesday as the situation came under control.

Britain said it had managed to bring out about 1,000 people a day while Germany flew 130 people out. France said it had moved out 25 of its nationals and 184 Afghans and Australia said 26 people have arrived on its first flight back from Kabul.

As the Taliban consolidated power, one of their leaders and co-founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, returned to Afghanistan for the first time in more than 10 years. A Taliban official said leaders would show themselves to the world, unlike in the past when they lived in secret.

"Slowly, gradually, the world will see all our leaders," the senior Taliban official told Reuters. "There will be no shadow of secrecy."

As Baradar was returning, a Taliban spokesman held their first news briefing since their return to Kabul, suggesting they would impose their laws more softly than during their harsh 1996-2001 rule.

"We don't want any internal or external enemies," Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's main spokesman, told reporters.

Women would be allowed to work and study and "will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam", he said.

During their rule, also guided by sharia religious law, the Taliban stopped women from working. Girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out and then only when accompanied by a male relative.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, echoing leaders of other Western countries, said the Taliban would be judged on their actions.

"We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes, and by its actions rather than by its words, on its attitude to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access, and the rights of girls to receive an education," Johnson told parliament.

Britain has said it will welcome up to 5,000 Afghans during the first year of a new resettlement program that will prioritize women, girls and religious and other minorities.

Many Afghans are also sceptical of the Taliban promises. Some said they could only wait and see.

"My family lived under the Taliban and maybe they really want to change or have changed but only time will tell and it's going to become clear very soon," said Ferishta Karimi, who runs a tailoring shop for women.

Mujahid said the Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and government officials, and were granting an amnesty for ex-soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.

"Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors," he said, adding that there was a "huge difference" between the Taliban now and 20 years ago.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Johnson said they had agreed to hold a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders next week to discuss a common approach to Afghanistan.

The decision by Biden, a Democrat, to stick to the withdrawal deal struck last year by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, has stirred widespread criticism at home and among U.S. allies.

Biden said he had to decide between asking U.S. forces to fight endlessly or follow through on Trump's withdrawal deal. He blamed the Taliban takeover on Afghan leaders who fled and the army's reluctance to fight.

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