Afghanistan: Independence Day protests see Afghans wave national flag in defiance of Taliban

Afghan protesters have waved their national flag in a symbol of defiance against the Taliban on the country’s Independence Day.

Processions of cars drove through Kabul with banners of red, green and black billowing from them on Thursday.

The Taliban, who have their own black and white flag, moved quickly to suppress the demonstrations, which also broke out in Nangarhar, Khost and Kunar province.

In the eastern city of Asadabad, several people are believed to have been killed after waving the national flag, according to a witness cited by the Reuters news agency.

Afghanistan latest news – live updates on evacuations from Kabul

In Kabul, a crowd of men and women were seen waving the national flag and chanting: “Our flag, our identity”.

Insurgents are reported to have fired shots at protesters, but it is not clear if victims died as a result of the shots or a stampede.

It comes after Taliban fighters violently dispersed a protest in Jalalabad on Wednesday.

At least one person was killed after demonstrators removed the group’s flag from a public place and replaced it with the national one.

In Khost, southeast of the country, Taliban authorities introduced a 24-hour curfew after violence broke out as they tried to break up protests.

The Islamist insurgents said they were marking Afghan Independence Day by celebrating their victory over the US.

They said of the commemorations: “Fortunately, today we are celebrating the anniversary of independence from Britain.

“We at the same time as a result of our jihadi resistance forced another arrogant of power of the world, the United States, to fail and retreat from our holy territory of Afghanistan.”

Thousands of Afghans are still desperately trying to flee a life under the Taliban via Kabul airport.

Foreign embassies have set up evacuation centres inside the airport compound, including the UK and US who have committed to airlifting thousands of their own nationals and eligible Afghans in the coming weeks.

At least 12 people have died in and around the airport since Sunday, according to insurgent and NATO officials.

The Taliban has warned of the consequences of trying to escape, with a spokesman saying: “We don’t want to hurt anyone at the airport.”

But scenes there have become increasingly desperate in recent days, with new footage showing a child being passed to a foreign soldier in the hope they might be able to escape.

Another clip, thought to have been filmed on Tuesday, captures shots being fired near large crowds and fighters kicking those trying to flee.

Sky correspondent Stuart Ramsay, who is on the ground in Kabul, said crowds around the barbed wire fence were “absolute chaos” on Thursday morning.

He described “thousands upon thousands” of families with children trying to get to evacuation centres inside the compound, particularly via the US gate.

For the most part, Taliban fighters are not stopping people from entering, he added, but those who don’t qualify for asylum are forced to walk past dangerous checkpoints en route back to their homes.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that the Taliban are cooperating with the British by letting those eligible through to be evacuated.

But he said the real challenge for embassy staff at the airport is “crowd issues” as thousands battle for safety.

“It is very, very difficult for those soldiers dealing with some desperate, desperate people,” he told Kay Burley.

In terms of numbers, he committed to “calling forward nearly 2,000 people” to board evacuation flights in the coming days.

Asked about footage of parents offering up their children to be rescued by Western soldiers, he said the armed forces cannot take youngsters without their families.

“We can’t just take a minor on their own,” he said.

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Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has committed to keeping US troops on the ground for as long as it takes to get every last American out.

Speaking to ABC News, he said: “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay till we get them all out.”

Defending the decision to pull out troops ahead of the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, he said there was “no way” to do it “without chaos ensuing”.

The UK has promised to take 20,000 Afghan refugees, with military flights arriving at RAF Brize Norton each day.

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