Aug. 20 (UPI) — For the second straight day, throngs of protesters took to the streets in Afghanistan to show disapproval for the abrupt Taliban takeover, as U.S. President Joe Biden said troops may be kept there until all Americans are safely evacuated.
Officials said that several people involved in the new demonstrations were killed when Taliban fighters opened fire on them in Asadabad, which is located in eastern Afghanistan about 110 miles east of Kabul.
The demonstrators were waving the Afghan national flag while celebrating the country’s independence from Britain on Aug. 19, 1919.
Multiple protesters were also killed Wednesday after clashing with Taliban fighters in Jalalabad, Afghanistan’s fifth-largest city.
“Hundreds of people came out on the streets,” witness Mohammed Salim said, according to India’s News 18. “At first I was scared and didn’t want to go but when I saw one of my neighbors joined in.
“I took out the flag I have at home. Several people were killed and injured in the stampede and firing by the Taliban.”
The militant group entered Kabul and took over the government on Sunday. On Tuesday, group leaders told reporters that they don’t plan to rule Afghanistan with violence and said women and girls will not face the same kind of suppression that occurred during the last Taliban rule in the 1990s.
In some of his first comments since fleeing Afghanistan, former President Ashraf Ghani said that he left the country before the Taliban arrived to avert a “huge plot” against him. He said his security team urged him to leave.
Meanwhile, Biden has said a small group of U.S. security forces might remain in Afghanistan beyond his Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline to make sure all American citizens are safely out of the country.
In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Biden said he’s committed to get all citizens out and do everything possible for Afghan civilians who aided the U.S. military.
“The commitment holds to get everyone out that we can get out and everyone who should come out,” Biden said. “That’s the objective. That’s what we’re doing now. That’s the path we’re on. And I think we’ll get there.”
Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, a Pentagon representative, said Thursday that the United States has evacuated some 7,000 people from Kabul in the past give days. State Department spokesman Ned Price said another 6,000 people have been prepared for evacuation.
“This is an operation that will continue at as fast a clip as we can possibly manage,” Price said in a briefing Thursday.
Biden has been criticized for the U.S. withdrawal due to the speed of the Taliban takeover. The U.S. departure was partly based on a deal former President Donald Trump made with the Taliban last year to facilitate the withdrawal of troops. Earlier this week, Biden defended his decision to withdraw forces, saying he refuses to commit more American lives to the 20-year campaign.
British Secretary of State Dominic Raab said on Thursday that officials are working with Australia and other countries to get their people and their Afghan associates out of the country.
“[Britain] and Australia are united in evacuating our nationals and Afghans who have worked for us, and working together for a coordinated international response to tackle security threats and the humanitarian crisis,” Raab tweeted.
In Brussels, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the European Parliament on Thursday that the current state of Afghanistan is “a catastrophe” and “a nightmare.” The European Union is trying to get out 400 Afghans who assisted them over the two decades.
“Let me speak clearly and bluntly: This is a catastrophe,” Borrell said, according to The Washington Post. “This is a catastrophe for the Afghan people, for the Western values and credibility and for the developing of international relations.”
In the United States, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called for a classified briefing on Afghanistan.
McConnell and McCarthy said the Gang of Eight — leaders from both political parties in the House and Senate, along with bipartisan leaders of both chambers’ intelligence committees — should receive details on the location of U.S. residents still in Afghanistan and the status of talks with the Taliban to ensure their safety, among other topics.