Witnesses say at least three people have been killed in anti-Taliban protests in the city of Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, as the militant group moves to consolidate power across the country
Two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters Taliban fighters opened fire when residents tried to raise Afghanistan’s national flag at a square in the city.
Three people were killed and more than a dozen injured.
While the Taliban have insisted they will respect human rights, unlike during their previously draconian rule between 1996 and 2001, the attack in Jalalabad came as many Afghans hid at home or tried to flee the country, and as allegations of abuses by the loosely controlled militant organisation grew.
Many have expressed dread that the two-decade Western experiment to remake Afghanistan will not survive the resurgent Taliban, who took control of the country in a blitz that took just days.
Taliban leaders held talks with senior Afghan officials about a future government on Wednesday.
In a potential complication to any effort to stabilise the country, the Central Bank chief warned that American sanctions over the Taliban’s terror links threatened Afghanistan’s economy, which is already dangerously low on hard foreign currency.
One figure who was not at the talks taking place in Kabul was Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who fled as the Taliban closed in on the capital.
The United Arab Emirates acknowledged it had taken him and his family in.
Meanwhile the US and other nations, including Australia, are continuing efforts to evacuate thousands of people from the airport in the capital Kabul.
Witnesses said armed Taliban were preventing people from getting into the airport compound, even if they had the necessary documents to travel.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne yesterday warned that people trying to get to the airport were having to negotiate Taliban checkpoints.
“It’s a complete disaster. The Taliban were firing into the air, pushing people, beating them with AK47s,” said one person who was trying to get through.
A Taliban official said commanders and soldiers had fired into the air to disperse crowds outside the airport, but told Reuters: “We have no intention to injure anyone.”
The Pentagon said the US military was not able to reach people outside the airport.
Jalalabad protest came before Independence Day
In an early sign of opposition to the Taliban’s rule, dozens gathered in Jalalabad and a nearby market town to raise the tricolour national flag, a day before Afghanistan’s Independence Day, which commemorates the 1919 treaty that ended British rule.
They lowered the Taliban flag — a white banner with an Islamic inscription — that the militants have raised in the areas they captured.
Video footage later showed the Taliban firing into the air and attacking people with batons to disperse the crowd.
Babrak Amirzada, a reporter for a local news agency, said the Taliban beat him and a TV cameraman from another agency.
In the days since the Taliban seized Kabul on Sunday, the militants have only faced one other protest, by a few women in the capital.
‘I was forced to leave’
The UAE acknowledged that Mr Ghani and his family were in the Gulf country in a terse, one-sentence statement.
“The UAE has welcomed president Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on humanitarian grounds,” it said.
Mr Ghani, in theory, remains the president of Afghanistan.
But many in the country blame him for the collapse of the country’s security forces, which fled in the face of the Taliban advance.
The US embassy in Abu Dhabi did not respond to questions about Mr Ghani’s presence.
Speaking late on Wednesday in a video posted to Facebook, Mr Ghani defended abandoning Kabul as the Taliban advanced, describing it as the only way to prevent bloodshed.
He denied rumours that he left with millions of dollars.
“I was forced to leave Afghanistan with one set of traditional clothes, a vest and the sandals I was wearing,” he said.
In a sign of the monetary difficulties any future Afghan government will face, the head of Afghanistan’s Central Bank said the country’s supply of physical US dollars was “close to zero.”
Afghanistan has some $US9 billion ($12.4 billion) in reserves, Ajmal Ahmady tweeted, but most is held outside the country, with some $7 billion held in US Federal Reserve bonds, assets and gold.
Mr Ahmady said the country did not receive a planned cash shipment amid the Taliban offensive.
“The next shipment never arrived,” he said.
“Seems like our partners had good intelligence as to what was going to happen.”
A US official confirmed that the Treasury Department had frozen the Afghan government’s accounts in the United States and halted direct assistance payments to the government.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the matter publicly. The Treasury Department did not respond to questions.
Mr Ahmady said the lack of US dollars would likely lead to a depreciation of the local currency, the afghani, hurting the country’s poor.
The “Taliban won militarily — but now have to govern,” he said.
“It is not easy.”
US troops may stay beyond deadline, Biden says
US troops may stay in the country past an August 31 deadline to evacuate Americans, President Joe Biden said in an interview with ABC America.
“If there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out,” Mr Biden said.
The President is being urged to extend the deadline and has come under fierce criticism for his handling of the withdrawal.
But he insisted problems in ending the 20-year US involvement were inevitable.
“The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” he said.
He said the Taliban were cooperating with efforts to get Americans out of the country but “we’re having some more difficulty” in evacuating US-aligned Afghan citizens.
A top US diplomat said the US expected the Taliban to let Afghans depart safely.
Mr Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris discussed ways to accelerate the evacuations with the national security team on Wednesday, a White House official said.