‘I’m worried for our future’: Residents of Kabul attempt to flee Taliban takeover

Left: The streets of Kabul were clogged with traffic the morning of August 15, 2021, as Taliban fighters surrounded the capital. Right: A crowd of people gathered in front of a bank in Kabul to withdraw cash before leaving the city.
Left: The streets of Kabul were clogged with traffic the morning of August 15, 2021, as Taliban fighters surrounded the capital. Right: A crowd of people gathered in front of a bank in Kabul to withdraw cash before leaving the city. © Observers

Taliban fighters surrounded Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on August 15, after weeks of capturing territory around the country. The Islamist group’s arrival has prompted a mass exodus from the city as panicked residents attempted to flee and foreign embassies evacuated their staff. Our Observers hope that the government and the Taliban will keep their promise to prevent fighting and keep residents safe.

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Videos and photos shared widely online show chaos reigning in Kabul as the Taliban approached the capital on August 15. With the Taliban on the outskirts of the city, residents packed up their belongings and withdrew money, in hopes of leaving the country, which is almost completely under Taliban rule.

A video posted on Twitter on August 15, 2021 shows the streets of Kabul clogged with traffic as residents tried to flee the city.
A video posted on Snapchat on August 15, 2021 shows residents of Kabul, in cars and on foot, fleeing the city.
A video posted on Snapchat on August 15, 2021 shows residents of Kabul, in cars and on foot, fleeing the city. © Observers

A video posted on Snapchat on August 15, 2021 shows residents of Kabul, in cars and on foot, fleeing the city.

A video posted on Twitter August 15, 2021 shows a crowd of Kabul residents lined up at a bank to withdraw cash.

Videos showed Taliban fighters at the gates of Kabul, ordered to wait on the outskirts of the capital while the group negotiated with the government for a “peaceful” transfer of power. They were ordered to give passage to the people who wanted to leave.

"The Afghan people should not worry... there will be no attack on the city and there will be a peaceful transfer of power to the transitional government," Afghan Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said in a recorded speech.

‘Kabul is a ghost town now…. People are frustrated and anxious’

The FRANCE 24 Observers spoke to Abdullah (not his real name), a human rights activist who is hiding out in Kabul. He took solace in promises from the government and the Taliban that there would be no bloodshed in Kabul:

Kabul is relatively calm now. At least we know there won’t be a battle over the transfer of power in Kabul. So far, both the Taliban and [Ashraf Ghani’s] government agreed on a peaceful transfer of power. But Kabul is a ghost town now, shops are closed, streets are empty. People are frustrated and anxious.

These announcements were at least a piece of positive news that could assure us on some level. However, for groups that could face persecution from the Taliban, like social activists, human rights activists and journalists, there are real concerns. I hope that the Taliban will keep their promises and guarantee everyone’s safety.

‘We have to wait and see what the Taliban actually do. If they want to say that they are changed, they must prove it’

Mostafa, a teacher hiding out in Kabul, worries that the Taliban will not be able to keep their promises of safety and the maintenance of human rights

The city is totally empty, there’s no government, no rule, no police, army, no one. The situation is fear, panic, and uncertainty.

The Taliban fighters are not a disciplined army or military, so I am afraid of violations: they may take over houses, they may look for women, for government officials, for journalists, and punish them. There is no government, no control. So if they do any stealing or killing or any other crime, there’s no system to capture them. The people don’t know who to complain to. The Taliban said [people could leave freely] in a statement, but we have to wait and see what the Taliban actually do. They must show their good faith by their actions – if they want to say that they are changed, they must prove it. 

When I was seven, eight, nine years old, I experienced the [previous Taliban] regime. Women were totally neglected, ignored. My mother couldn’t go to the doctor alone. She couldn’t go buy food for us. When there was an emergency, my mother couldn’t go to the pharmacy or to the doctor. My sister couldn’t go to school. These are the main concerns we have for the Taliban coming to power again.

In a photo posted to Twitter August 15, 2021, a bridal beauty salon covers up posters featuring women, allegedly in preparation for the Taliban’s arrival.
Residents of Kabul have taken advantage of the lack of government and police presence to loot shops and other buildings. In this video posted on Twitter on August 15, 2021, some people loot a police station.

‘The Taliban have occupied all the cities, so there is nowhere else to go’

Those without the means to leave the country are now trapped in Kabul. 

Ali (not his real name), a shopkeeper, told the FRANCE 24 Observers that he has no choice but to stay in Kabul.

The situation in Kabul is not normal, shops are closed, people are afraid and the streets are like a ghost town, people are waiting to see what will happen. I’m worried for our future, and especially our family, because my father could be a target for the Taliban. Now the Taliban have occupied all the cities, so there is nowhere else to go, we can not even leave the house. We’re hiding somewhere with our family. I tried to escape from Afghanistan but I couldn’t because I have no money. 

This video published on Twitter on August 15 2021 shows the chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport, as cars drive up to the airplanes to deliver their passengers.
In this video shared on Twitter and WhatsApp, some Afghans try to escape Kabul on the last available planes. The woman recording the video says, “Look what’s happening to the Afghan people.” Gunfire can be heard in the background.
In this video shared on Twitter and WhatsApp, some Afghans try to escape Kabul on the last available planes. The woman recording the video says, “Look what’s happening to the Afghan people.” Gunfire can be heard in the background. © Observers

In this video shared on Twitter and WhatsApp, some Afghans try to escape Kabul on the last available planes. The woman recording the video says, “Look what’s happening to the Afghan people.” Gunfire can be heard in the background.

Fearing the imminent arrival of the Taliban, foreign embassies began to evacuate their staff members, and eyewitnesses reported seeing smoke coming from the US Embassy in Kabul as it burned sensitive documents.

In this video published on Snapchat on August 15, 2021, a Kabul resident films a helicopter similar to those used to evacuate officials from the US embassy.
In this video published on Snapchat on August 15, 2021, a Kabul resident films a helicopter similar to those used to evacuate officials from the US embassy. © Observers

In this video published on Snapchat on August 15, 2021, a Kabul resident films a helicopter similar to those used to evacuate officials from the US embassy.

In a video posted on Twitter on August 15, 2021, David Martinon, the French ambassador to Afghanistan, films himself leaving the former Green Zone to head to the airport. France relocated its embassy to the airport.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country for Tajikistan, according to government officials, as the Taliban said that it would push farther into the city after spending hours on the outskirts.

In a video posted on Twitter August 15, 2021, Taliban forces are seen moving into the city after nightfall.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the US military intervention in 2001. In February 2020, the US and the Taliban signed a deal to pave the way for the withdrawal of American troops. After US soldiers left in May and June 2021, the Taliban began an offensive and regained control of several provincial districts.