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Several killed amid stampede, firing by Taliban during rally in Afghanistan

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
People carry Afghan flags as they are seen taking part in an anti-Taliban protest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on August 18, 2021, in this screen grab taken from a video. (Via Reuters)

Several people have reportedly been killed in Afghanistan's northeastern city of Asadabad when members of the Taliban fired at people waving the national flag at an Independence Day rally and sparked a stampede.

It was not clear if the casualties were caused by the discharging of the firearms or from the ensuing stampede, witness Mohammed Salim, from the capital city of Kunar Province, told Reuters on Thursday.

Meanwhile, 12 people have been reportedly killed in and around the Kabul airport, as thousands are still awaiting evacuation from Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover of the country's capital. The deaths were caused either by gun shots or in stampedes, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing Taliban and NATO officials.

A Taliban official who declined to be identified said the militant group had urged people still crowding at the gates of the airport to return home if they did not have the legal right to travel, stressing that its members posed no threat to the lives of the people staying in the airport.

"We don't want to hurt anyone at the airport," the Taliban official said.

Following the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban militant group intensified offensives and rapidly overran major cities. On Sunday, it laid siege to Kabul, forcing the then-sitting Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, to flee the country.

The unfolding events culminated in chaotic scenes on Monday, with thousands of Afghan civilians and diplomats swarming the Kabul airport, hoping to find seats on flights leaving the country. Some local Afghans tried to hop onto moving planes.

Chaos at the airport prompted the US military to halt flights until the airfield could be secured.

Several Afghans on Monday were run over by or fell from an American military plane that took off from the runway as they clung to it, according to The Associated Press. At least seven people were killed.

In addition, US troops fatally shot two armed men at Kabul's airport, whom they alleged had presented "hostile threats" in two separate incidents.

Amid the uncertain political and security situation, many governments have rushed to evacuate their citizens and diplomatic personnel from Afghanistan.

The United States and other Western countries are pressing on with the evacuation of their nationals and some of their Afghan staff from the airport on Afghanistan's Independence Day. According to a Western security official, about 8,000 people have been flown out since Sunday.

Taliban militants are patrolling outside the airport's walled and fenced perimeter. The situation was relatively calm at the Kabul airport on Thursday, witnesses said. However, the Taliban prevented people from getting into the airport compound on Wednesday, and fired into the air, witnesses said. An unnamed Taliban official said commanders and soldiers had fired into the air to disperse the crowd.

West to be perceived as weak: British defense sec.

Separately on Thursday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the fate of Afghanistan after the two-decade-long war led by the United States meant that the West's resolve was now being perceived as weak by major "adversaries" such as Russia.

"What I'm uncomfortable with is that we have a world order now, where resolve is perceived by our adversaries as weak — the West's resolve," Wallace said. "That is something we should all worry about: if the West is seen not to have resolve and it fractures, then our adversaries like Russia find that encouraging," he added.

Meanwhile, the European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has branded the recent developments in Afghanistan "a catastrophe and a nightmare," adding that there had been a failure of intelligence to anticipate the Taliban's return to power in the conflict-ridden country.

He also told the European Parliament that a first group of 106 EU staff members in Afghanistan had been airlifted from the country and had arrived in Madrid, Spain.

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