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The Taliban after the hardline Islamists took control of Afghanistan

The Taliban after the hardline Islamists took control of Afghanistan

The Taliban after the hardline Islamists took control of Afghanistan

Taliban leaders gathered in the Afghan capital yesterday to begin mapping out an "inclusive government", as thousands scrambled to leave the country via a chaotic evacuation dubbed one of the most difficult airlifts in history.

A senior Taliban official told AFP that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- who co-founded the group -- would meet jihadi leaders, elders and politicians in the coming days, stirring faint hope they may hold good on pledges to rule differently this time around.

But the gathering also included top officials from the Haqqani network, a US-designated terrorist organisation with million-dollar bounties on its leadership.

Meanwhile, forces holding out against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan yesterday said they have taken three districts close to the Panjshir valley where remnants of government forces and other militia groups have gathered.

Defence minister General Bismillah Mohammadi, who has vowed to resist the Taliban, said in a tweet that the districts of Deh Saleh, Bano and Pul-Hesar in the neighbouring province of Baghlan to the north of Panjshir had been taken.

It was not immediately clear what forces were involved but the incident adds to scattered indications of opposition to the Taliban who swept to power in a lightning campaign that saw them take all of Afghanistan's main cities in a week.

Local television station Tolo News quoted a local police commander who said Bano district in Baghlan was under the control of local militia forces and said there had been heavy casualties.

Former Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Massoud, the son of the late, famed anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, have vowed to resist the Taliban from Panjshir, which repelled both Soviet forces and the Taliban in the 1980s and 1990s.

People close to Massoud say that more than 6,000 fighters, made up of remnants of army and Special Forces units as well as local militia groups, have gathered in the valley. They say they have some helicopters and military vehicles and have repaired some of the armoured vehicles left behind by the Soviets.

The Panjshir Valley remains the only holdout against the Taliban after the hardline Islamists took control of Afghanistan.

But yesterday, pro-Taliban social media feeds posted a video of Khalil Haqqani of the Haqqani network claiming Massoud's son had "declared allegiance" to the new Islamic emirate.

There has been no statement from Massoud.

The Taliban have promised "positively different" rule from their 1996-2001 stint in power, which was infamous for an ultra-fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law.

Women were excluded from public life, girls banned from school and people stoned to death for adultery.

They have vowed not to seek revenge, promising a general amnesty for anyone who worked with the US-backed government.

But an intelligence document for the United Nations said militants were going door-to-door hunting former government officials and those who worked with US and Nato forces.

While searching for a Deutsche Welle journalist, the Taliban shot dead his uncle, the German public broadcaster reported.

Six days after the Taliban swept to power, the flow of people trying to flee continued to overwhelm the international community.

Roads leading to Kabul airport were choked with traffic. Families hoping for a miracle escape crowded between the barbed-wire surrounds of an unofficial no man's land separating the Taliban from US troops and remnants of an Afghan special forces brigade helping them.

Video of a US soldier lifting a baby over a wall at Kabul airport offered the latest imagery of the utter despair, following horror footage of people hanging onto the outside of departing planes.

"Please, please, please help me... where should I go, what should I do," one man, who said he worked for the US embassy in the mid-2000s, wrote on a WhatsApp group for people to share information on how to get out.

Thousands of US soldiers are at the airport trying to shepherd foreigners and Afghans onto flights, but President Joe Biden admitted the troop presence offered no guarantees of safe passage.

"This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history," he said.

"I cannot promise what the final outcome will be, or... that it will be without risk of loss."

US military helicopters were deployed to rescue more than 150 Americans unable to reach the airport on Friday morning, an official in Washington said.

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It was the first report of US forces going beyond the airport to help people seeking evacuation.

Yesterday, the US embassy issued a fresh warning telling Americans not to try to reach the airport unless they received specific instructions from a government representative.

Biden had set a deadline of August 31 to completely withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, but he flagged this could be extended for the airlifts.

About 13,000 people have left on American military aircraft, the White House said. Thousands more have fled on other foreign military flights.

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