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Afghans fear Taliban retribution as group expands control, executes critics

The Taliban’s surge is threatening major urban centers across Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the sense of panic is growing as more Afghans were granted permission to resettle in the United States. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson joins John Yang with updates on this fast-evolving situation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The situation in Afghanistan gets worse by the day, as the U.S. completely withdraws troops by the end of the month.

    John Yang has our report.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, the Taliban's surge is threatening major urban centers across the country.

    Meantime, the sense of panic is growing, as more Afghans were granted permission to resettle in the United States.

    Our own Jane Ferguson is here to bring us up date us on this fast-evolving situation.

    Jane, thanks so much for joining us.

    As we reported earlier in the program the United States is expanding its refugee program, who is eligible. Is there any sense that everyone who wants to get out, who feels threatened by the advance of the Taliban is going to be able to get out?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    There is a sense, John, that those who want to get out who have worked with U.S. agencies or any agencies sponsored by the U.S. government now might have more of a chance of getting out, though timing is everything.

    What we are hearing now from the State Department is that those who have applied for SIV — the SIV program — that's the interpreter, the military interpreter program — and who haven't been successful, perhaps haven't been eligible, didn't do enough service, that they may have another chance, that there may be a slight widening of the categories, of basically the requirements necessary to get them on to that program.

    On top of that, we're also hearing that those who have worked with U.S.-sponsored development projects, perhaps those who have worked with anything from USAID-sponsored programs, to those who have also worked with the U.S. media in Afghanistan, may now qualify.

    They can at least apply for refugee status or for the ability to get a visa to the United States. And this is really in reaction to growing pressure to help people get out. So it is certainly going to be welcome news to people who want to get out. It is not clear yet whether or not the timing will be speedy enough.

    As you have mentioned, the Taliban advances across the country are deeply concerning. And those who are in cities especially like Kabul who I have spoken with are extremely panicked that, although these measures could help them get out of the country, they're not sure if they will be able to get out fast enough.

  • John Yang:

    Talk about that panic, that increasing concern.

    What are you hearing from just the average Afghan who may not have the connection to get out?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Those who don't have the connections, John, are trying to find them.

    I mean, there will be Afghans who, of course — many, most Afghans will not be able to get out of the country. Many will stay. But people are concerned. Primarily, they're concerned about security, about economic collapse, about making sure that they can keep their families safe and keep them fed.

    These have always been priorities for Afghans, but those are growing now. But for anybody who worked within the major American project that this war has been, there is a deep concern about retaliation. There is a fear that their lives could be at risk and that the lives of their families could be at risk.

    Those who feel like they are not going to be able to apply and get out of the country through regular visas to other countries, whether those are the United States or neighboring countries or places like Turkey, those people are going to be looking more towards illegal routes, and the smuggling routes out of the country. That is a deep concern.

    Many people I have spoken to said they absolutely would look to that option, if they have to, to get out of the country. So the chances of major movement, a mass movement of people out of the country, whether they get visas or not, are high if we continue to see this basically escalation of the violence.

  • John Yang:

    Earlier today, at a State Department briefing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked about these increasing reports of attacks on Afghans by the Taliban. And here is what he had to say:

  • Antony Blinken:

    The Taliban has repeatedly said that they seek in the future a number of things, international recognition, international support. They want their leaders to be able to travel freely around the world. They would like sanctions lifted on them.

    And none of those things are going to be possible if the Taliban seeks to take the country by force and commits the kind of atrocities that have been reported.

  • John Yang:

    First of all, Jane, what sort of things is he talking about? What sorts of atrocities? And are these carrots, do you think, going to be enough to change the Taliban behavior?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Those atrocities that he is referring to are a growing number of incidents that are going viral on social media whereby the Taliban will take over an area and carry out retribution.

    There was one particularly famous incident. Last week, the Taliban actually even admitted and claimed responsibility for it, where they took a famous comedian, an Afghan comedian from Kandahar who had been famous on TikTok, on social media. He was last seen taken away by Taliban fighters, where he was being slapped and abused. And he was then executed by those fighters.

    And the Taliban themselves claimed responsibility for that attack. And so there is a growing of sense of fear that retribution could be quite . It's not clear whether the Afghan political leaders in places like Doha who are trying to reassure people, even military interpreters telling them, don't worry, you will be safe, many people are not going to believe that whenever they start to see these videos across social media of retribution.

    There has been a major talking point for months and even years, John, what would the Taliban behave like if they came back to power or if they started taking territory? There's a deep-seated fear right now of the worst-case scenario, whereby political leaders pay lip service to human rights, but, in reality, the commanders on the ground are going door to door and will enact retribution against those they feel deserve it.

  • John Yang:

    Fears of the worst-case scenario.

    Special correspondent Jane Ferguson, thank you very much.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Thank you, John.

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