Following a speedy takeover of Afghanistan that blindsided the world, the Taliban has been trying to assuage widespread fears of violent repression that characterized its regime in the 1990s. But photos and video trickling out of the country suggest that the Taliban isn’t being as “peaceful” as it claims.
Automatic gunfire rang out over protesters hoisting a large green, red and black flag of Afghanistan in a clip posted to Twitter on Wednesday from what is believed to be the city of Jalalabad, as people scattered to safety. It was not immediately clear if there were fatalities.
That follows shocking images reportedly taken along Kabul’s Airport Road and posted by a Los Angeles Times photographer. In one photo posted on Wednesday, a woman lies motionless on the ground with what appears to be injuries to her head. Beside her, an unconscious child with a bloodied head is cradled by a man.
“Taliban fighters use gunfire, whips, sticks and sharp objects to maintain crowd control over thousands of Afghans who continue to wait for a way out,” the photographer wrote in a tweet accompanying the images, adding that at least six people were wounded in his presence. It is unclear when the photos were taken.
A source on the ground confirmed to VICE World News that the Taliban were firing guns and beating civilians heading to the airport, which was besieged in recent days with people trying to board packed flights out of Afghanistan over fears of the militants’ violent reputation.
“They’re beating the people trying to enter the airport,” the source said, to control the crowds. “The Taliban have sticks and they’re beating people.”
“It’s not at the main gate [of the airport] but there’s another gate people are going to… there’s a rush of people towards the gate. When people are getting close to the gate, the Taliban start firing. They’re not shooting them directly, just firing,” the source said.
Another video shared on social media shows what appear to be armed Taliban militants trying to disperse a crowd near the airport. At least one man is seen walking around with a rocket launcher while another fires his rifle continuously into the air.
Fatal shootings at the airport have so far been attributed to U.S. forces trying to secure the facility. American forces shot and killed at least two armed men on Monday during the pandemonium, according to multiple reports.
Though the U.S. has sent additional troops to secure the terminal and help evacuations, the Taliban is in full control of Kabul, where embassies have emptied out. The group reportedly set up checkpoints at the airport entrance to prevent Afghans from leaving, but has said that it would allow civilians to reach the site.
However, one man who was an interpreter for the Australian army was reportedly shot in the leg by a Taliban fighter while waiting in line to board an Australian military evacuation flight.
World leaders are watching closely at what kind of administration the Taliban is intending for Afghanistan, with many people—especially women—fearful of a return to the dark days of persecution. When in power from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban was known for its extreme repression of civil liberties as well as brutal punishments on civilians which include public executions and amputations.
But on Tuesday, at its first press conference since taking power, Taliban representatives repeatedly asserted the organization's peaceful intentions.
“We want to make sure that Afghanistan is not… a battlefield of conflict anymore,” said Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid. “The residents (of Kabul) should be assured that your security is guaranteed.”
Still, many remain wary of the Taliban’s latest campaign, as illustrated by the anguished attempts to get out of the country as fast as possible.
Since Sunday, over 600 people crammed into a U.S. plane leaving the country, carrying far more than its designated load; aerial photos showed massive crowds surrounding planes on the tarmac and severe traffic jams on nearby roads; and people scaled a wall lined with barbed wire to get into the airport.
Human remains were also found in the wheel well of a departing plane after people clung to the aircraft during its powerful ascent into the sky.
Natashya Gutierrez contributed to the reporting of the story.