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US pressuring Taliban to release American detainee

Video recorded at the scene shows the Taliban firing into the air and breaking up the crowd by attacking people with batons.

Babrak Amirzada, a reporter for a local news agency, said he and a TV cameraman from another agency were beaten by Taliban fighters as they tried to cover the unrest. Two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters fighters killed at least three people and injured more than a dozen.

The fallout of the Afghan government collapse continued to roil the US.

In a briefing at the Pentagon, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said that even the US intelligence agencies’ most pessimistic assessments had not predicted such a rapid collapse by the Afghan army.

Milley said that some US intelligence assessments canvassed a Taliban takeover in the weeks, months or even years following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army or this government in 11 days,” Milley said, an apparent reference to the time between the Taliban’s capture of its first provincial capital and its seizure of Kabul.

Did not anticipate the speed of the Afghan government collapse: Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley, right, speaks at a press briefing with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Did not anticipate the speed of the Afghan government collapse: Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley, right, speaks at a press briefing with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.Credit:AP

The Taliban on Thursday urged crowds of Afghans waiting outside Kabul airport in the hope of fleeing the country to go home, saying they did not want to hurt anyone.

One NGO told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that Afghans they were trying to evacuate were being blocked at checkpoints.

Twelve people have been killed in and around the airport since Sunday, a NATO and a Taliban official said. The deaths were caused either by gun shots or by stampedes, the Taliban official said.

The Taliban have repeatedly stressed that Afghans should stay in the country but has said foreigners and diplomats would be granted a safe departure.

A senior Taliban official said the checkpoints were set up solely to prevent people from rushing the tarmac following chaotic scenes on Monday, when several people fell to their death as they tried to stow away on a US military aircraft. However, German defence officials said that the Taliban were only letting through members of the international community.

Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul on Wednesday.

Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul on Wednesday.Credit:AP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Commons that “at the moment” the Taliban were allowing evacuations to go ahead.

“The most important thing is that we get this done in as expeditious a fashion as we can, and that is what we are doing,” he said. Britain plans to evacuate 1000 people per day and accept 20,000 refugees.

So far, 306 Britons and 2052 Afghans have managed to escape safely. The Pentagon said it was talking to the Taliban about guaranteeing access.

On Tuesday evening, the Royal Australian Air Force published photographs of what it said were the first evacuees from Kabul. On board the C-130J Hercules were “all available and willing Australian citizens and visa holders at the airport”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the first evacuation flight carried 26 people.

The Taliban had promised that private media could continue to operate in Afghanistan, with the caveat that news organisations must not offend national interests and comply with Islamic law. It said women journalists would need to wait and see whether they would be permitted to continue in their jobs.

The United States, European Union and 19 other countries, including Australia, issued a joint statement calling on the Taliban to guarantee the protection of women and girls.

“We are deeply worried about Afghan women and girls, their rights to education, work and freedom of movement,” the 20 governments and the EU said.

“We call on those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan to guarantee their protection.

“We will monitor closely how any future government ensures rights and freedoms that have become an integral part of the life of women and girls in Afghanistan during the last 20 years.”

A man holds the Afghan flag during a protest in Jalalabad on Wednesday.

A man holds the Afghan flag during a protest in Jalalabad on Wednesday.Credit:AP

Meanwhile, a senior member of the Taliban, Anas Haqqani, was pictured in Kabul meeting former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation and a peace envoy in the former government. Karzai was president until 2014 and was succeeded by Ghani.

Haqqani heads the violent Taliban offshoot Haqqani Network.

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A spokesman for Karzai said the initial meeting was likely to lead to negotiations with the Taliban’s co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Baradar, the Taliban’s top political leader, is tipped to be Afghanistan’s next ruler.

He was given a hero’s welcome on the tarmac as he disembarked a flight from Qatar in Kandahar on Tuesday evening. It was the first time he had set foot on home soil for a decade and was believed to be travelling to Kabul on Wednesday.

The Taliban has promised to run an “inclusive government” but one that is subject to Islamic law.

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