The first evacuees from Afghanistan have arrived in Perth as more Australians desperate to flee the Taliban-overrun nation struggle to reach Kabul’s airport.
The federal government has promised to send a second military flight out of the chaotic country but it’s not clear when it will arrive.
The ABC reports that Australians and visa holders who flocked to the airport are struggling to get past huge crowds and aggressive Taliban guards at checkpoints.
It comes as the BBC reports that the Taliban are carrying out a highly-organised door-to-door hunt for people on their wanted list which could lead to mass executions.
“What we have seen is that the Taliban, in advance of moving into all major cities in Afghanistan, not just Kabul, is that they have a more advanced intelligence system,” Christian Nellemann, of the Norwegian Centre for Global Analyses, told the BBC.
“They have lists of individuals and even within the very first hours of moving into Kabul they began a search of former government employees – especially in intelligence services and the special forces units.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said federal officials were working with the Western Australian government to ensure the evacuees got medical and mental health support.
“This has been a difficult and distressing ordeal for many of the evacuees and we will help them through completing the mandatory 14 day quarantine,” Mr Morrison said.
WA has agreed to take in the passengers above the state’s weekly quarantine arrivals cap.
Other states will also be asked to help as the evacuation continues.
An RAAF transport plane on Thursday lifted 76 Australian citizens and Afghans with protection visas out of the Afghan capital to a base in the United Arab Emirates.
The flight also dropped a further 40 Australian Defence Force personnel and provisions into Kabul to help with the rescue mission.
The latest evacuation adds to 26 people extracted from Kabul during the first flight.
Mr Morrison said weather and security issues presented challenges.
“We are moving as quickly as we can,” he said.
Australia is working to establish its own staging area at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The government has defended offering 3000 humanitarian places to Afghans fleeing the Taliban despite other nations pledging to take more than six times that number.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke expected the initial commitment could rise to 5000 as the situation unfolded in Afghanistan.
World Vision is among groups calling on Australia to create an additional 20,000 humanitarian visas for people fleeing Afghanistan.
More than 300 organisations have signed an open letter saying the government has a moral duty to the Afghan people.
Red Cross has launched a public appeal for funds to provide health care and other humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, as well as support communities in Australia to locate and reconnect with missing family in Afghanistan caught up in the crisis.
“Afghanistan is one of the world’s most fragile states. We know that humanitarian needs will remain high and are likely to increase,” Australian Red Cross’ Adrian Prouse said.
Taliban clamps down in Independence Day
Flag-waving protesters have taken to the streets in more Afghan cities as popular opposition to the Taliban spreads, while a witness said several were killed when the militants fired on a crowd in Asadabad in the east.
“Our flag, our identity,” a crowd of men and women waving black, red and green national flags shouted in the capital Kabul, a video clip posted on social media showed on Thursday.
Afghanistan celebrates independence from British control in 1919 on August 19.
A witness reported gunshots fired near the rally, but they appeared to be armed Taliban shooting in the air.
One woman walked with an Afghan flag wrapped around her shoulders, and those marching chanted “God is greatest”. At some protests, media reported people tearing down the white flag of the Taliban.
The Islamist militant movement conquered Afghanistan in lightning speed as foreign troops withdrew, surprising even its leaders and leaving them to fill a power vacuum in many places.
Since seizing Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban have presented a more moderate face to the world, saying they want peace, will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.
In Asadabad, capital of the eastern province of Kunar, several people were killed during a rally, but it was not clear if the casualties resulted from Taliban firing or from a stampede that it triggered, witness Mohammed Salim said.
“Hundreds of people came out on the streets,” Mr Salim said.
“At first I was scared and didn’t want to go but when I saw one of my neighbours joined in, I took out the flag I have at home.
“Several people were killed and injured in the stampede and firing by the Taliban.”
Protests also flared up in the city of Jalalabad and a district of Paktia province, both also in the east.
US President Joe Biden said the Taliban must decide whether it wants to be recognised by the international community, in an ABC interview aired on Thursday.
Asked if he thought the Taliban had changed, Mr Biden said, “No.”
“I think they’re going through a sort of existential crisis about: Do they want to be recognised by the international community as being a legitimate government? I’m not sure they do,” he said, adding that the group appeared more committed to its beliefs.