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Warning Shots Fired At Kabul Protest; U.S. Working With Taliban On Flights

A Taliban soldier in combat gear stands amid protesters during an anti-Pakistan protest in Kabul on September 7.

Taliban fighters on September 7 fired shots into the air to disperse a rally in Kabul after the militant group swept to power last month, as the United States sought to reassure it was working so that flights chartered by NGOs that are waiting to evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans can leave the war-torn country safely.

The hard-line Islamist group took control of most of Afghanistan three weeks ago following the collapse of the Western-backed government.

Nonetheless, Afghan women, wary of a repeat of the group's previous brutal rule between 1996 and 2001, have been holding for the past week small, isolated demonstrations in cities including Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e Sharif.

In Kabul on September 7, hundreds of protesters, including many women, took to the streets to denounce the Taliban and demand women's rights be preserved.

They shouted slogans such as "Long live the resistance," and "Death to Pakistan," as many believe the neighboring country supports the Taliban, which Islamabad denies.

Witnesses said Taliban members fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd, while video clips showed scores of people running as volleys of gunfire are heard in the background.

"Groups of women from Khairkhanah, Parwan-e Seh [in Kabul], and some other places gathered along with men," Freshta Mowahid, who was among the protesters, told RFE/RL via Skype.

"Many Taliban members wanted to disrupt it at first. Another group started protesting in front of the Pakistani Embassy, and the Taliban shot to disperse them."

Journalists were prevented from filming at the rally, and Afghanistan's TOLOnews reported that one of its cameramen was detained by the Taliban for nearly three hours.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

In the central province of Ghor, about 10 women protested against Pakistan's alleged involvement in the Afghan conflict and for an end to the fighting in Panjshir Valley, where rebel forces have been the last pocket of resistance to the militants.

The demonstrations follow a weekend visit by Pakistan’s intelligence chief Faiz Hameed and unconfirmed reports that Pakistan had helped the Taliban by using drones to bomb Panjshir, a rugged valley located about 100 kilometers northeast of Kabul where an armed resistance group had been holding out.

A Pakistani military spokesman rejected the allegations, saying his country “has nothing to do with what is happening inside Afghanistan, be it Panjshir or anywhere else.”

In the weeks before the last U.S. troops completed their withdrawal from Kabul on August 31, U.S.-led foreign forces evacuated more than 123,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans but several American and tens of thousands who fear Taliban retribution were left behind.

More than a dozen U.S. citizens and hundreds of others, including children, have reportedly been prevented for days from flying out of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif on planes chartered by several U.S. nongovernmental organizations.

Marina LeGree, the founder and executive director of the U.S.-based NGO Ascend, said on September 7 that some 600 to 1,300 people, including teenage girls from her group, have been waiting near the city’s airport for as long as a week to board planes on the ground.

"It's been seven days and nothing's moving," LeGree, whose group trains Afghan girls in leadership through physical activities like mountain climbing, told AFP, accusing the Taliban of “simply not letting anything move."

Six chartered planes were waiting at the airport to evacuate those waiting, who are meanwhile being housed in various places in the city, LeGree said.

During a visit to Qatar, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was in contact with about 100 Americans who remained behind and continues to work to make sure such charter flights can leave safely.

Blinken told reporters that members of the Taliban has told the United States "they will let people with travel documents freely depart.”

"We will hold them to that," he added.

Speaking alongside the top U.S. diplomat, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani expressed hope that Kabul airport would be operational in the next few days, but no deal had yet been reached on how to run it.

The Taliban is also grappling with looming financial and humanitarian crises.

The United Nations emergency aid office (OCHA) appealed for almost $200 million in extra funding for life-saving aid in Afghanistan, where a total of $606 million is needed until the end of the year to provide critical food and livelihood assistance to nearly 11 million people and essential health services to 3.4 million.

The office said the funds would also go toward treatment for acute malnutrition for more than 1 million children and women, water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions, and protection of children and survivors of gender-based violence.

"Basic services in Afghanistan are collapsing and food and other life-saving aid is about to run out," said OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke.

Meanwhile, UNICEF said the UN children's agency and its partners had registered around 300 unaccompanied and separated children evacuated from Afghanistan since August 14, and that this number is expected to rise “through ongoing identification efforts.”

"It is vital that they are quickly identified and kept safe during family tracing and reunification processes," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement, stressing that "all parties must prioritize the best interests of the child and protect children from abuse, neglect and violence."

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and the BBC
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