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Those Trying To Get Out Of Afghanistan Must Pass Through Taliban Checkpoints

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Spokesmen for the Taliban have promised an amnesty for their former enemies after capturing Afghanistan's capital. They also promised not to block Afghans who are trying to leave in a U.S.-led evacuation. The test of those pledges comes day by day on the streets. So earlier today, we called Charlotte Bellis of Al-Jazeera, who's in Kabul.

Welcome to the program.

CHARLOTTE BELLIS: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is the situation around the airport as people try to reach it today?

BELLIS: Well, the Taliban are controlling the perimeter of the airport. They've put a lot of men with guns and other heavy weaponry around where you traditionally enter to go to the departures area. They are shooting into the air. They are pushing people back. After the airport was overrun on Monday, thousands of people ran onto the tarmac, and no evacuation flights could take place. Since then, they've put a heap of their fighters around to push the crowds back. Then behind them, there's kind of a no man's land on their commercial side of the airport. And then on the far side of the airport, there's a big military base where thousands of Americans are currently stationed, along with other foreigners, and they are desperately trying to get their people out on C-17s, C-130s. And so you've got this kind of couple of hundred meters between Taliban fighters and U.S. forces.

INSKEEP: I want to understand what the Taliban forces are doing. What you describe would be consistent, perhaps, with crowd control, maybe rough crowd control, but attempting to be helpful. At the same time, though, we have heard reports about individual Afghans who want to leave and feel they have been blocked by the Taliban; they've been turned away. What's your best understanding about whether the Taliban are letting people leave?

BELLIS: They say that they really want people to have the freedom to leave if they have all the right paperwork. I've seen both sides of it. They've been helping some people get through. They were helping Americans, actually, into the airport and pushing others back so Americans could make their evacuation flights. They were helping even government leaders make evacuation flights. But then in other instances, when people were showing up to embassies with paperwork, trying to get on various flights, they're pushing them back. So I think there's an element of chaos and kind of anarchy at the moment as the Taliban want to look like they're in control, that they have everything - that security has improved under them and that they're facilitating this but, at the same time, trying to deal with crowds and just feeling, I think, pretty overwhelmed with the thousands of people who are making a run for the airport.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing from people who want to stay in Kabul?

BELLIS: it's mixed. Some people are really anxious, especially those who have been in Kabul for a long time, who've worked with - even, like, my colleagues who work with international media, interpreters. They're very anxious. There's a lot of distrust there because they lived through it in the '90s, and they don't want to take the chance that this could be the Taliban of the '90s. So, yeah, there's a lot of distrust at the moment. But still, when the Taliban came to town, there were people out there and throngs taking selfies, chasing them down the road like they were football stars. So, you know, there's this kind of element of mystique and a mix of kind of hesitation from some, and also, there's a strange energy with others as being kind of curious about this group.

INSKEEP: Charlotte Bellis of Al-Jazeera is in Kabul. Thanks very much for your reporting. Really appreciate it.

BELLIS: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Be safe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.