On Patrol: 12 Days With a Taliban Police Unit in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan — A young Taliban fighter with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his finger warily watched the stream of approaching cars as he stood in front of a set of steel barricades.

Friday prayers would begin soon at the Sakhi Shah-e Mardan shrine and mosque, a holy Shiite site in central Kabul that he was guarding.

There had been two bombings of Shiite mosques in Afghanistan by the Islamic State in recent months, killing dozens, and this 18-year-old Taliban fighter, Mohammad Khalid Omer, wasn’t taking any chances.

He and his police unit of five other fighters, colloquially known as the Sakhi unit after the shrine they defend, represents the Taliban’s vanguard in their newest struggle after the group’s stunning takeover of the country in August: They won the war, but can they secure the peace in a multiethnic country racked by more than 40 years of violence?

economic hardships gripping their countrymen, with the same threat of Islamic State attacks and with the raucous, puzzling, winding streets and back alleys of Kabul, a city of about 4.5 million people that they are practically strangers to.

The Sakhi unit lives full time next to the shrine in a small concrete room painted bright green with a single electric heater. Steel bunk beds line the walls. The only decoration is a single poster of the sacred Kaaba in Mecca.

the Taliban’s interim government, composed almost entirely of Pashtun hard-liners who are emblematic of the movement’s harsh rule in the 1990s, and who are perceived as anti-Hazara.

As he spoke in the unit’s cramped barracks, a small speaker often played “taranas,” the spoken prayer songs, without musical accompaniment, popular with the Talibs.

One of the group’s favorites was a song about losing one’s comrades, and the tragedy of youth lost. In a high thin voice, the singer intones, “O death, you break and kill our hearts.”

On a fall day last year as the Sakhi unit looked on, families gathered on the tiled terraces around the shrine, drinking tea and sharing food.

Some cautiously eyed the Talibs patrolling the site, and one group of young men rushed to put out their cigarettes as they approached. The Taliban generally frown on smoking, and the unit has at times physically punished smokers.

Another day, two teenage boys came to the shrine, brazenly strolling with their two girlfriends. They were confronted by the Sakhi unit, who asked what they were doing. Unsatisfied with their answers, the Talibs dragged the boys into their bunk room to answer for the transgression. In conservative Afghanistan, such public consorting is taboo, doubly so in a holy site under Taliban guard.

Inside their room, there was an argument among the Sakhi unit about how to handle the two boys: good cop versus bad cop. Hekmatullah Sahel, one of the more experienced members of the unit, disagreed with his comrades. He pushed for a verbal lashing rather than a physical one. He was overruled.

When the teenagers were finally allowed to leave, shaken by the beating they had just received, Mr. Sahel called out to the boys, telling them to come back again — but without their girlfriends.

The episode was a reminder to the shrine’s visitors that the Taliban fighters, while generally friendly, could still revert to the tactics that defined their religious hard-line rule in the 1990s.

For the group of six fighters, contending with flirting teenagers was just another indicator that their days of fighting a guerrilla war were over. Now they spend their time preoccupied by more quotidian policing considerations, like spotting possible bootleggers (alcohol in Afghanistan is banned), finding fuel for their unit’s pickup and wondering whether their commander will grant them leave for the weekend.

Mr. Omer had joined the unit only months before. “I joined the Islamic Emirate because I had a great desire to serve my religion and country,” he said.

But to some Talibs, Mr. Omer is what is derisively called a “21-er” — a fighter who only joined the movement in 2021, as victory loomed. This new generation of Talibs bring new expectations with them, chief among them the desire for a salary.

They and most other rank-and-file fighters have never received a salary from the movement. Despite seizing billions in American-supplied weapons and matériel, the Taliban are still far from being well equipped. Fighters are dependent on their commanders for basic supplies, and they have to scrounge for anything extra.

Mr. Sahel, at 28, is older than most of his comrades, slower to excite and more restrained. He spent four years studying at a university, working the whole time as a clandestine operative for the movement. “None of my classmates knew that I was in the Taliban,” he said. He graduated with a degree in physics and math education, but returned to the fight.

Relieved the war is over, he and his comrades still miss the sense of purpose it provided. “We are happy that our country was liberated and we are currently living in peace,” he said, but added, “we are very sad for our friends who were martyred.”

Every few weeks, the men are allowed to visit their families back in Wardak for two days. On a crisp morning in November, Mr. Inqayad sat in his home in the Masjid Gardena valley, a beautiful collection of orchards and fields hemmed in by mountain peaks.

He explained that many families in the area had lost sons to the fighting, and estimated that 80 percent of the families in the area were Taliban supporters.

Mr. Inqayad attended school until the seventh grade, but had to drop out. Religious studies filled in some gaps. He joined the Taliban at 15.

Recently married, he faces new challenges now that the movement is in power. The only potential breadwinner in his family, he needs a salary to support his wife, mother and sisters, but so far he has not been drawing one.

Back in Kabul, the Sakhi unit loaded up for a night patrol, bundling up to combat the cold wind that blows incessantly from the mountains ringing the city.

Mr. Omer rode in the bed of the unit’s truck, a machine gun resting on his lap and bands of ammunition wrapped around his neck like party beads.

But there was little to warrant the heavy weaponry meant for suppressing enemy troops. Their area of responsibility was quiet, and the men seemed bored as they spun around the city as packs of street dogs chased and snapped at the tires of passing cars.

Sami Sahak contributed reporting.

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New Taliban Chancellor Bars Women From Kabul University

Tightening the Taliban’s restrictions on women, the group’s new chancellor for Kabul University announced on Monday that women would be indefinitely banned from the institution either as instructors or students.

“I give you my words as chancellor of Kabul University,” Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat said in a Tweet on Monday. “As long as a real Islamic environment is not provided for all, women will not be allowed to come to universities or work. Islam first.”

The new university policy echoes the Taliban’s first time in power, in the 1990s, when women were only allowed in public if accompanied by a male relative and would be beaten for disobeying, and were kept from school entirely.

Some female staff members, who have worked in relative freedom over the past two decades, pushed back against the new decree, questioning the idea that the Taliban had a monopoly on defining the Islamic faith.

funding from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. That effectively deprived thousands of government workers and teachers of their salaries.

According to estimates by lecturers who spoke with The Times, more than half of the country’s professors have left their jobs. Kabul University has lost a quarter of its faculty, one of the university’s board members said, adding that in some departments, like Spanish and French language, there are no teachers left.

“Kabul University is facing a brain drain,” said Sami Mahdi, a journalist and former lecturer at Kabul University School of Public Policy, who spoke over the phone from Ankara, Turkey. He flew out of the country the day before Kabul fell to the Taliban, he said, but has kept in touch with his students back home. “They are disheartened — especially the girls, because they know that they won’t be able to go back,” he said.

gunmen from ISIS walked into a classroom in Kabul University and opened fire, killing 22 of her classmates. After escaping through a window to save her life, she was shot in the hand while running from the building.

She was left traumatized and with chronic pain, but still continued to attend classes. By August, when Taliban soldiers entered Kabul, she was only months away from receiving her degree. But now the Taliban decree appears to have rendered her dream impossible.

“All the hard work I have done so far looks like it is gone,” she said. “I find myself wishing I had died in that attack with my classmates instead of living to see this.”

Wali Arian and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

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Germany’s Far Right Is Nowhere in the Election. But It’s ‘Here to Stay.’

BERLIN — They promised they would “hunt” the elites. They questioned the need for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin and described Muslim immigrants as “head scarf girls” and “knife men.”

Four years ago the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, arrived in the German Parliament like a wrecking ball, the first far-right party to win a place at the heart of Germany’s democracy since World War II. It was a political earthquake in a country that had once seen Hitler’s Nazi party rise from the fringes to win power in free elections.

Founded eight years ago as nationalist free-market protest party against the Greek bailout and the euro, the AfD has sharply shifted to the right.

The party seized on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to welcome over a million migrants to Germany in 2015 and 2016, actively fanning fears of Islamization and migrant crime. Its noisy nationalism and anti-immigrant stance were what first catapulted it into Parliament and instantly turned it into Germany’s main opposition party.

But the party has struggled to expand its early gains during the past 18 months, as the pandemic and, more recently, climate change have shot to the top of the list of voters’ concerns — while its core issue of immigration has barely featured in this year’s election campaign.

The AfD has tried to jump on the chaos in Afghanistan to fan fears of a new migrant crisis. “Cologne, Kassel or Konstanz can’t cope with more Kabul,” one of the party’s campaign posters asserted. “Save the world? Sure. But Germany first!” another read.

At a recent election rally north of Frankfurt, Mr. Chrupalla demanded that lawmakers “abolish” the constitutional right to asylum. He also told the public broadcaster Deutsche Welle that Germany should be prepared to protect its borders, “if need be with armed force.”

None of this rhetoric has shifted the race, particularly because voters seem to have more fundamental concerns about the party’s aura of extremism. Some AfD leaders have marched with extremists in the streets, while among the party’s supporters are an eclectic array of conspiracy theorists and neo-Nazi sympathizers.

shot dead on his front porch by a well-known neo-Nazi. The killer later told the court that he had attended a high-profile AfD protest a year earlier.

Since then, a far-right extremist has attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle during a Yom Kippur service, leaving two dead and only narrowly failing to commit a massacre. Another extremist shot dead 9 mostly young people with immigrant roots in the western city of Hanau.

The AfD’s earlier rise in the polls stalled almost instantly after the Hanau attack.

“After these three attacks, the wider German public and media realized for the first time that the rhetoric of the AfD leads to real violence,” said Hajo Funke of the Free University in Berlin, who has written extensively about the party and tracks its evolution.

“It was a turning point,” he said. “They have come to personify the notion that words lead to deeds.”

Shortly after the Hanau attack, Thomas Haldenwang, the chief of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, placed elements of the AfD under surveillance for far-right extremism — even as the party’s lawmakers continued to work in Parliament.

“We know from German history that far-right extremism didn’t just destroy human lives, it destroyed democracy,” Mr. Haldenwang warned after announcing his decision in March last year. “Far-right extremism and far-right terrorism are currently the biggest danger for democracy in Germany.”

Today, the agency has classified about a third of all AfD members as extremist, including Mr. Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, the party’s other lead candidate. A court is reviewing whether the entire party can soon be placed under formal observation.

“The AfD is irrelevant in power-political terms,” said Mr. Funke. “But it is dangerous.”

Mr. Chrupalla, a decorator who occasionally takes the stage in his overalls, and Ms. Weidel, a suit-wearing former Goldman Sachs analyst and gay mother of two, have sought to counter that impression. As if to hammer home the point, the party’s main election slogan this year is: “Germany — but normal.”

A look through the party’s 207-page election program shows what “normal” means: The AfD demands Germany’s exit from the European Union. It calls for the abolition of any mandates to fight the coronavirus. It wants to return to the traditional German definition of citizenship based on blood ancestry. And it is the only party in Parliament that denies man-made climate change, while also calling for investment in coal and a departure from the Paris climate accord.

That the AfD’s polling numbers have barely budged for the past 18 months suggests that its supporters are not protest voters but Germans who subscribe to its ideas and ideology.

“The AfD has brought out into the open a small but very radical electorate that many thought we don’t have in this country,” said Mr. Quent, the sociologist. “Four years ago people were asking: ‘Where does this come from?’ In reality it was always there. It just needed a trigger.”

Mr. Quent and other experts estimate the nationwide ceiling of support for the party at around 14 percent. But in parts of the former Communist East, where the AfD has become a broad-based political force entrenched at the local level, it is often twice that — enough to make it the region’s second-strongest political force.

Among the under 60-year olds, Mr. Quent said, it has become No. 1.

“It’s only a question of time until AfD is the strongest party in the East,” Mr. Quent said.

That is why Mr. Chrupalla, whose constituency is in the eastern state of Saxony, the one state where the AfD already came first in 2017, predicts it will eventually become too big to bypass.

“In the East we are a people’s party, we are well-established at the local, city, regional and state level,” Mr. Chrupalla said. “In the East the middle class votes for the AfD. In the West, they vote for the Greens.”

Christopher F. Schuetze and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.

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Reporters in Afghanistan Face an Intolerant Regime: ‘Everything Changed Overnight’

Beloved shows removed from the airwaves. A television station cutting from a news report a story about a pregnant police officer who was reportedly fatally shot by the Taliban. A radio editor telling his colleagues to edit out anti-Taliban cheers from coverage of demonstrations in the capital.

Afghanistan’s vibrant free press and media industry, once celebrated as a success story and labeled one of the country’s most important achievements of the past two decades, has abruptly been transformed after the Taliban takeover of the country. Now, its survival is threatened by physical assaults, self-censorship and a dwindling journalist population less than a month after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, the capital, and began enforcing their hard-line Islamist policies.

The Taliban’s crackdown on the free press was even more evident on Wednesday after two Afghan journalists were detained and violently assaulted for covering a protest in Kabul. Photos showed the backsides of both reporters covered with bruises and gashes from being whipped repeatedly with cables, sparking an international outcry.

“The situation of free media is very critical,” said Neda, an anchor for a local television station in Kabul, identified by her nickname to protect her identity. “No one dares to ask the Taliban about their past wrongdoings and the atrocities they have committed.”

the Taliban rounded up scores of demonstrators around Kabul and journalists covering the protests, subjecting them to abuse in overcrowded jails, according to journalists who were present. The crackdown on the demonstrations and the ensuing coverage followed a Taliban announcement Tuesday that protests would not be allowed without government approval. At least 19 journalists were detained on Tuesday and Wednesday, the United Nations said.

“You’re lucky you have not been beheaded,” Taliban guards told one detained journalist as they kicked him in the head, Ravina Shamdasdani, a spokeswoman for the United Nations human rights office in Geneva, told reporters.

Reporters with Etilaat e Roz described being detained at the protests, then brought to a nearby police station where they were tied up and beaten with cables.

Taqi Daryabi, one of the reporters, said about a half-dozen Taliban members handcuffed him behind his back when he was on the ground on his stomach, then began kicking and hitting him until he lost consciousness.

“They beat so much that I couldn’t resist or move,” he said. “They forced me to the ground on my stomach, flogging me on my buttocks and back, and the ones who were in the front were kicking me in the face.”

Reporters working for Tolo News, Ariana News, Pajhwok News Agency and several freelance journalists have also been detained and beaten by the Taliban in the past three weeks, according to local media reports.

“The Taliban is quickly proving that earlier promises to allow Afghanistan’s independent media to continue operating freely and safely are worthless,” Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement Wednesday. “We urge the Taliban to live up to those earlier promises, to stop beating and detaining reporters doing their job.”

On top of the dangerous environment, the flow of information from the government has slowed and become very limited. There used to be dozens of government spokesmen; now there are only a handful speaking for the new Taliban government, and they are less responsive than during the group’s insurgency.

In the late 1990s, the Taliban imposed strict restrictions on the media, banning television and using the state-owned radio and newspapers as propaganda platforms. But the group promised greater openness toward freedom of expression once it seized power last month.

“We will respect freedom of the press, because media reporting will be useful to society and will be able to help correct the leaders’ errors,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the acting deputy information and culture minister, told Reporters Without Borders last week. “We declare to the world that we recognize the importance of the role of the media.”

Many Afghan journalists said those promises are just “words” by Taliban’s leaders, citing recent assaults on reporters in Kabul and elsewhere.

“Press freedom is dead in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Quraishi, the media advocate. “And the society without a free press dies.”

Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. Nick Bruce contributed from Geneva.

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In US Drone Strike, Evidence Suggests No ISIS Bomb

[explosion] In one of the final acts of its 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States fired a missile from a drone at a car in Kabul. It was parked in the courtyard of a home, and the explosion killed 10 people, including 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi and seven children, according to his family. The Pentagon claimed that Ahmadi was a facilitator for the Islamic State, and that his car was packed with explosives, posing an imminent threat to U.S. troops guarding the evacuation at the Kabul airport. “The procedures were correctly followed, and it was a righteous strike.” What the military apparently didn’t know was that Ahmadi was a longtime aid worker, who colleagues and family members said spent the hours before he died running office errands, and ended his day by pulling up to his house. Soon after, his Toyota was hit with a 20-pound Hellfire missile. What was interpreted as the suspicious moves of a terrorist may have just been an average day in his life. And it’s possible that what the military saw Ahmadi loading into his car were water canisters he was bringing home to his family — not explosives. Using never-before seen security camera footage of Ahmadi, interviews with his family, co-workers and witnesses, we will piece together for the first time his movements in the hours before he was killed. Zemari Ahmadi was an electrical engineer by training. For 14 years, he had worked for the Kabul office of Nutrition and Education International. “NEI established a total of 11 soybean processing plants in Afghanistan.” It’s a California based NGO that fights malnutrition. On most days, he drove one of the company’s white Toyota corollas, taking his colleagues to and from work and distributing the NGO’s food to Afghans displaced by the war. Only three days before Ahmadi was killed, 13 U.S. troops and more than 170 Afghan civilians died in an Islamic State suicide attack at the airport. The military had given lower-level commanders the authority to order airstrikes earlier in the evacuation, and they were bracing for what they feared was another imminent attack. To reconstruct Ahmadi’s movements on Aug. 29, in the hours before he was killed, The Times pieced together the security camera footage from his office, with interviews with more than a dozen of Ahmadi’s colleagues and family members. Ahmadi appears to have left his home around 9 a.m. He then picked up a colleague and his boss’s laptop near his house. It’s around this time that the U.S. military claimed it observed a white sedan leaving an alleged Islamic State safehouse, around five kilometers northwest of the airport. That’s why the U.S. military said they tracked Ahmadi’s Corolla that day. They also said they intercepted communications from the safehouse, instructing the car to make several stops. But every colleague who rode with Ahmadi that day said what the military interpreted as a series of suspicious moves was just a typical day in his life. After Ahmadi picked up another colleague, the three stopped to get breakfast, and at 9:35 a.m., they arrived at the N.G.O.’s office. Later that morning, Ahmadi drove some of his co-workers to a Taliban-occupied police station to get permission for future food distribution at a new displacement camp. At around 2 p.m., Ahmadi and his colleagues returned to the office. The security camera footage we obtained from the office is crucial to understanding what happens next. The camera’s timestamp is off, but we went to the office and verified the time. We also matched an exact scene from the footage with a timestamp satellite image to confirm it was accurate. A 2:35 p.m., Ahmadi pulls out a hose, and then he and a co-worker fill empty containers with water. Earlier that morning, we saw Ahmadi bring these same empty plastic containers to the office. There was a water shortage in his neighborhood, his family said, so he regularly brought water home from the office. At around 3:38 p.m., a colleague moves Ahmadi’s car further into the driveway. A senior U.S. official told us that at roughly the same time, the military saw Ahmadi’s car pull into an unknown compound 8 to 12 kilometers southwest of the airport. That overlaps with the location of the NGO’s office, which we believe is what the military called an unknown compound. With the workday ending, an employee switched off the office generator and the feed from the camera ends. We don’t have footage of the moments that followed. But it’s at this time, the military said that its drone feed showed four men gingerly loading wrapped packages into the car. Officials said they couldn’t tell what was inside them. This footage from earlier in the day shows what the men said they were carrying — their laptops one in a plastic shopping bag. And the only things in the trunk, Ahmadi’s co-workers said, were the water containers. Ahmadi dropped each one of them off, then drove to his home in a dense neighborhood near the airport. He backed into the home’s small courtyard. Children surrounded the car, according to his brother. A U.S. official said the military feared the car would leave again, and go into an even more crowded street or to the airport itself. The drone operators, who hadn’t been watching Ahmadi’s home at all that day, quickly scanned the courtyard and said they saw only one adult male talking to the driver and no children. They decided this was the moment to strike. A U.S. official told us that the strike on Ahmadi’s car was conducted by an MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired a single Hellfire missile with a 20-pound warhead. We found remnants of the missile, which experts said matched a Hellfire at the scene of the attack. In the days after the attack, the Pentagon repeatedly claimed that the missile strike set off other explosions, and that these likely killed the civilians in the courtyard. “Significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.” “Because there were secondary explosions, there’s a reasonable conclusion to be made that there was explosives in that vehicle.” But a senior military official later told us that it was only possible to probable that explosives in the car caused another blast. We gathered photos and videos of the scene taken by journalists and visited the courtyard multiple times. We shared the evidence with three weapons experts who said the damage was consistent with the impact of a Hellfire missile. They pointed to the small crater beneath Ahmadi’s car and the damage from the metal fragments of the warhead. This plastic melted as a result of a car fire triggered by the missile strike. All three experts also pointed out what was missing: any evidence of the large secondary explosions described by the Pentagon. No collapsed or blown-out walls, including next to the trunk with the alleged explosives. No sign that a second car parked in the courtyard was overturned by a large blast. No destroyed vegetation. All of this matches what eyewitnesses told us, that a single missile exploded and triggered a large fire. There is one final detail visible in the wreckage: containers identical to the ones that Ahmadi and his colleague filled with water and loaded into his trunk before heading home. Even though the military said the drone team watched the car for eight hours that day, a senior official also said they weren’t aware of any water containers. The Pentagon has not provided The Times with evidence of explosives in Ahmadi’s vehicle or shared what they say is the intelligence that linked him to the Islamic State. But the morning after the U.S. killed Ahmadi, the Islamic State did launch rockets at the airport from a residential area Ahmadi had driven through the previous day. And the vehicle they used … … was a white Toyota. The U.S. military has so far acknowledged only three civilian deaths from its strike, and says there is an investigation underway. They have also admitted to knowing nothing about Ahmadi before killing him, leading them to interpret the work of an engineer at a U.S. NGO as that of an Islamic State terrorist. Four days before Ahmadi was killed, his employer had applied for his family to receive refugee resettlement in the United States. At the time of the strike, they were still awaiting approval. Looking to the U.S. for protection, they instead became some of the last victims in America’s longest war. “Hi, I’m Evan, one of the producers on this story. Our latest visual investigation began with word on social media of an explosion near Kabul airport. It turned out that this was a U.S. drone strike, one of the final acts in the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Our goal was to fill in the gaps in the Pentagon’s version of events. We analyzed exclusive security camera footage, and combined it with eyewitness accounts and expert analysis of the strike aftermath. You can see more of our investigations by signing up for our newsletter.”

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First Flight From Kabul Is Hailed as Positive Step Amid Troubling Signs

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ten days after the chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan came to an end, a lone jetliner lifted off from Kabul’s airport on Thursday, the first international passenger flight since American forces ended their 20-year presence in the country.

The departure of the chartered Qatar Airways Boeing 777, with scores of Americans, Canadians and Britons on board, was hailed by some as a sign that Taliban-ruled Afghanistan might be poised to re-engage with the world, even as reports emerged that the group was intensifying its crackdown on dissent.

“Kabul Airport is now operational,” Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, a special envoy from Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a news conference on the tarmac.

In recent days, Qatari and Turkish personnel worked with the Taliban to repair damage and make the airport basically functional again. But just more than a week ago, the facility was a scene of frantic desperation as people jockeyed to find seats on the last commercial and military planes out.

a suicide bombing attack at the gates of the airport killed scores of Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban who joined the Qatari envoy at the news conference, said that the resumption of international flights would be critical to ensuring that much-needed aid continued to flow into the country.

China, making cautious overtures to its unstable neighbor, has pledged to give $30 million in food and other aid to the new government. But China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, also urged the Taliban to work to contain terrorist groups.

The United Nations warned on Thursday that the freezing of billions of dollars in Afghan assets to keep it out of Taliban hands would inevitably have devastating economic consequences.

Deborah Lyons, the U.N. special envoy on Afghanistan, told the U.N. Security Council that the international community needed to find way to make these funds available to the country, with safeguards to prevent misuse by the Taliban, “to prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order.”

a statement. “Afghans who have taken to the streets, understandably fearful about the future, are being met with intimidation, harassment and violence — particularly directed at women.”

U.S. officials said that the Americans on board the flight from Kabul on Thursday were considered the “most interested” in getting out, but said other Americans in Afghanistan would have other opportunities to leave.

Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent who sits on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, was cautiously optimistic on Thursday morning about Americans elsewhere in Afghanistan being able to depart from the Kabul airport, although he noted the journey could be “treacherous and difficult.” But he said it was still unclear how many who wanted to leave remained in Afghanistan, or how they would get to the capital.

“I don’t want to sound like I have a great deal of confidence in the Taliban,” Mr. King said, adding, “All I can say is that it appears that, thus far, the Taliban has honored their commitment to allow Americans to leave.”

While the flight Thursday appeared to be a step toward resolving a diplomatic impasse that has left scores of Americans and other international workers stranded in Afghanistan, it was not clear if the Taliban would allow the tens of thousands of Afghans who once helped the U.S. government and now qualify for emergency U.S. visas to leave.

Taliban and foreign officials have said that Afghans with dual citizenship would be allowed to leave, but it was unclear whether any were on the first flight.

It also remained unclear whether charter flights from the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where dozens of Americans and hundreds of Afghans were waiting to leave the country, would be allowed to fly.

In recent days, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has said that the Taliban are to blame for the grounded flights, and that they claim some passengers on the manifesto do not have the proper documentation.

Mr. Price, the State Department spokesman, said the United States had “pulled every lever” to persuade the Taliban to allow flights to depart from Mazar-i-Sharif carrying not only American citizens and legal residents but also Afghans considered to be at high risk.

“It continues to be our contention that these individuals should be allowed to depart,” he said. “At the first possible opportunity.”

Paul Mozur and Marc Santora contributed reporting.

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Taliban Appoint Stalwarts to Top Government Posts

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban announced a caretaker government on Tuesday, taking a major step in re-establishing their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and empowering many of the movement’s stalwarts from their regime in the 1990s.

After weeks of assurances from Taliban leaders that the movement would offer a more moderate and inclusive style of governing, most of the acting appointments on Tuesday were of senior figures who served in similar roles decades ago — a sign that the group’s conservative and theocratic core remain largely unchanged. All were men, and several are listed by the United States and United Nations as global terrorists.

“I assure all our countrymen that these officials will work hard to uphold Islamic rules and Shariah law,” Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, the movement’s supreme leader, said in a written statement handed out at a news conference in Kabul. “The Islamic Emirate needs the continued support of its people to rebuild the ruined country together.”

The Taliban made clear that more appointments would be coming, extending a process that has already stretched for weeks since the group suddenly seized national control last month.

“Guantánamo Five.” They were held at the American detainment camp at Guantánamo Bay for 13 years before being exchanged in 2014 for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier captured by the Taliban.

In order to govern, the Taliban will need to secure aid, which has been frozen by the United States and other nations. Yet U.S. sanctions against some cabinet members, including Mr. Haqqani and his uncle, Khalil Haqqani, appointed acting minister of refugees and repatriation — both listed as leaders of the terrorist-designated Haqqani network — will make that a difficult proposition.

Another factor will be foreign governments, lenders and aid organizations who are waiting to see the fate of the opposition and whether the Taliban will respect rights for women and ethnic and religious minorities. Just hours before the Taliban announced their new government posts, in fact, their fighters were on Kabul’s streets violently breaking up a peaceful demonstration for the second time in less than a week.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

As they marched on Tuesday morning, they carried a banner with a single word: “Freedom.”

The protests are happening as the Taliban cement their military grip on the country as well, announcing on Monday that they had seized the capital of restive Panjshir Province.

Afghanistan also faces a worsening humanitarian crisis. Basic services like electricity are under threat, while the country has been buffeted by food and cash shortages.

Thousands of Afghans are still desperately trying to flee the country, even as the United States works to evacuate dozens of its citizens. At a news conference in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said U.S. officials were “working around the clock” to ensure that charter flights carrying Americans can depart Afghanistan safely.

One senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the fact that the Taliban took more than three weeks to announce even a transitional government, despite pressing need to reestablish services and economic functions, could be taken as a sign that “they weren’t really ready, and they didn’t have a plan.”

The appointed officials, who were all men, were also notable for including only a few non-Pashtuns, despite the country’s ethnic diversity and the Taliban’s promises of inclusive government.

At the news conference naming the new cabinet, the chief Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, who was named deputy information and culture minister, stressed the transitional nature of the government.

“This is an acting cabinet appointed to handle current affairs, and we are preparing the foundations of government and state-building,” he said. “In the near future, the role of the people’s participation and the shuras will be developed.”

Taliban officials said that a nationwide gathering of religious scholars and elders is still being planned in order to confirm Sheikh Haibatullah, a native of Kandahar Province and a widely respected religious scholar within the movement, as Afghanistan’s supreme leader.

Reporting was contributed by Wali Arian, Sami Sahak, Mujib Mashal, Adam Nossiter, Michael Crowleyand Farnaz Fassihi.

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Restoration of Kabul’s Closed Airport Begins as Some Afghan Aid Resumes

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s plunge into chaos, isolation and near-destitution under its newly ascendant Taliban rulers appeared to slow on Thursday, with the first significant moves to salvage Kabul’s inoperable airport, an increased flow of U.N. aid and word that international money transfers had resumed to the country, where many banks are shuttered.

But these developments did not signal any diminished suspicion toward the Taliban, the hard-line movement of Islamic extremists, many of them on terrorist watch lists, who seized power last month after two decades of war against an American-led military coalition and the government the United States had propped up.

And despite expectations that the Taliban leaders now ensconced in Kabul’s presidential palace would formally announce the makeup of a new government on Thursday, the anticipated announcement was delayed.

ended on Monday night. The airport remained closed to the public on Thursday, its hangars strewn with debris and some aircraft damaged by shrapnel, bullets and vandalism, but the Taliban permitted reporters inside, where security personnel and technicians from Qatar who had been sent to help reopen the airport were busy.

Teams of Qataris ferried back and forth in armored Land Cruisers at the airport’s VIP terminal under a giant billboard of Ashraf Ghani, the former president who fled abroad on Aug. 15 as Taliban fighters entered Kabul all but unopposed.

“The airport will open very soon,” said Daoud Sharifi, the chief operating officer of Kam Air, Afghanistan’s largest privately owned airline, which basically shut down even before the Taliban triumphed more than two weeks ago.

Western Union announced that it was resuming money transfers to Afghanistan, enabling customers from 200 countries and territories to “once again send money to their loved ones in the country.” Western Union, which had halted the transfers a few weeks ago, took the step as the U.S. Treasury Department said American financial institutions could process personal remittances.

Such remittances from the Afghan diaspora, a crucial source of income and foreign currency in Afghanistan, had basically stopped. At the same time, financial institutions in the United States and elsewhere have prevented the Taliban from gaining access to Afghan government bank reserves and other financial assets.

The dearth of cash in Afghanistan has become an acute source of desperation, seen in the lines of customers queued outside banks in the prelude and aftermath of the Taliban takeover. It also represents a quandary for the United States, which does not want to be seen as penalizing ordinary Afghans, many of them still in shock over the abrupt U.S. departure.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Despite the Taliban’s effort to project an image of responsibility in reopening Kabul’s airport, enormous challenges remain not just for that facility but for basic aviation security. Most foreign carriers are now avoiding Afghanistan’s air space, depriving it of yet another important source of income: overflight fees, which countries charge airlines for permission to fly over their territory.

Both of Afghanistan’s carriers — Kam Air and the state-owned Ariana Airlines — are crippled for now.

In a recent interview from Doha, Qatar, Farid Paikar, the chief executive of Kam Air, said his airline had been reeling from heavy losses in the months leading up to the tumult during the Kabul airport evacuation, which left two of its aircraft damaged. He also said the airport’s aviation control systems had been damaged and that many Kam Air employees, including foreign pilots, engineers and technicians, had been forced to flee.

“It will take so long to reactivate all these systems and the terminal,” Mr. Paikar said. “The international community should help us with this, but I don’t know if they will be interested.”

A former Ariana official said three of that carrier’s four aircraft had been damaged at the Kabul airport, along with many computer and aviation systems.

An interview with an airport security guard who managed to flee to Doha in the evacuation offered a vivid account of the scene the day after Kabul fell to the Taliban, basically describing it as a total breakdown in authority.

The security guard, Gulman, who identified himself by only one name for fear of reprisal, said crowds of Afghans had poured onto the tarmac, clambering to board any departing flights. Windows of grounded Kam Air planes were cracked and seats torn apart, he said.

But the biggest blow to the airport’s viability, he said, were the employees who joined the frenzy of others scrambling to leave: security guards, airline crews and air traffic controllers who abandoned their posts.

Gulman said he had arrived at work expecting to inspect bags at his scanner as usual. Instead, he found every other luggage scanner abandoned and the uniforms of his colleagues scattered on the floor.

For half an hour, Gulman said, he stood at his usual post, debating what to do before another colleague arrived and convinced him that the two of them — having gotten past the crowds at the airport gate because of their security guard uniforms — should also board a flight.

Sharif Hassan and Najim Rahim contributed reporting.

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U.S. Launches Strike on ISIS-K as Bombing’s Death Toll Soars

The U.S. military said on Friday night that it had launched its first reprisal strike for the devastating suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport the day before, using a drone to target and apparently kill a planner for the group that claimed responsibility for the deaths of as many as 170 civilians and 13 U.S. service members.

“U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, also known as Islamic State Khorasan.

“The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan,” Captain Urban said. “Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties.”

The attack at the airport on Thursday was one of the deadliest bombings in the nearly two decades since the U.S.-led invasion. American officials believe “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday afternoon. “The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.”

attack also killed 13 U.S. service members, and one of the first to be identified was Rylee McCollum, 20, a Marine who had been on his first overseas deployment, according to his father. He was one of 10 Marines, two soldiers, and one Navy medic killed in the attack, according to defense officials.

ISIS-K, instead saying it was just one. The explosion hit right near the airport’s Abbey Gate, at a security chokepoint that squeezed together an enormous crowd that U.S. troops were checking for entry.

It was not only fear that trimmed the crowd at the airport Friday, what had been a constant mass since the Taliban assumed power nearly two weeks ago. Taliban fighters with Kalashnikov rifles kept people farther away from the airport’s entrance gates, guarding checkpoints with trucks and at least one Humvee.

Flights to evacuate people already within the airport resumed soon after the bombing. But the airport itself was largely locked down on Friday.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Both exercises — the walk and the nudging — are proving to be challenges. In the normally bustling and noisy Shahr-e Naw neighborhood, once alive with street vendors and jostling pedestrians, there is now an unsettling silence. And so far his encounters with the Taliban have not yielded the results he had hoped for.

on pace to fall well short of providing an exit for everyone who wants to leave.

That left Afghans scrambling to find a way out of the country.

In the southwest, thousands of people have been trying to flee into Pakistan, gathering daily near the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing, the only one designated for refugees. In the west, several thousand people a day are also crossing into Iran, U.N. officials said.

Daniel Victor, Zia ur-Rehman, Jim Huylebroek, Megan Specia, Fahim Abed, Jack Healy and Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

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