As the US Embassy reopens since the war started Pentagon plans to send troops to protect diplomats

Revelations 6:3-4 “when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Important Takeaways:

  • Pentagon working on plans to send troops to protect US Embassy in Kyiv
  • The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that officials are mulling plans to send special forces to Kyiv to guard the U.S. Embassy. The effort is a delicate one as it requires balancing the safety of American diplomats while avoiding what Russia could see as an escalation
  • Such plans “have not yet made it to [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] or myself for that matter, for refinement of courses of action and what’s needed,” he noted.
  • Milley added that any reintroduction of U.S. forces into Ukraine would require a presidential decision.
  • Milley said there are now about 102,000 American troops based in Europe, a more than 30 percent increase since the war began.

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Additional troops prepare to help evacuate 30,000 Americans in Ukraine

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • Biden approves thousands of additional troops to Eastern Europe
  • US officials told CNN that approximately 2,000 additional troops will be sent to Poland while additional forces will be dispatched to southeastern Europe.
  • The US forces are expected to be shipped out in the next few days, officials told the Journal.
  • “They are trained and equipped for a variety of missions during this period of elevated risk,” a senior defense official told the newspaper.
  • Military personnel who are part of the new forces could also be used to help evacuate the approximately 30,000 Americans living in Ukraine, the official told the Wall Street Journal.

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Heightened warnings from Intel community of potential Cyberattack

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • Russia Could Launch Cyber Attacks Against U.S. if Biden Sends Wrong Signals, Intel Warns
  • The Department of Homeland Security has warned:
    • “We assess that Russia would consider initiating a cyber-attack against the Homeland if it perceived a US or NATO response to a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine threatened its long-term national security,”
    • The warning came as President Joe Biden sent additional weapons to Ukrainian forces and reportedly weighed the option of sending thousands of U.S. troops to the Baltic states
    • And if these risks turn kinetic, he warned such an escalation could pass the point of no return.
    • “Once the shots are fired, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle,” Vindman said.

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Latvia calls for permanent U.S. troops to guard against Russia threat

By Sabine Siebold

ADAZI MILITARY BASE, Latvia (Reuters) – Latvia needs a permanent U.S. military presence to deter Russia and wants to boost its defenses with U.S. Patriot missiles, Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said on Monday as NATO’s chief visited allied troops in the Baltic country.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to arrive in Latvia’s capital Riga late on Monday before a meeting on Tuesday with 29 NATO counterparts. The alliance is alarmed by a Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders.

“We need additional international assistance,” Pabriks told Reuters. “We would like to have a permanent United States (military) presence in our country. And sea and air defense means basically going down to such systems as Patriot (surface-to-air missiles).”

NATO troops were rehearsing battle skills in a snowy Latvian woodland with camouflaged tanks and live rounds, with 1,500 troops seeking to stop an attack on Riga by disrupting and stalling the unidentified adversary’s advance north of the city.

“Deterrence is critical,” said Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John Benson, commander of the NATO battlegroup in Latvia.

Prompted by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Moscow’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, NATO has deployed four multinational battalion-size battlegroups to defend Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia since July 2017.

Moscow says it has no intention of invading the Baltics or Poland and accuses NATO of destabilizing Europe by moving troops closer to Russia’s borders. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said there was “no imminent threat” against NATO.

In May, Russia amassed 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, the highest number since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Western officials say. NATO says there was another large military build-up on Ukraine’s border this month.

The Baltic states are seen as NATO’s most vulnerable flank as they are linked to the alliance’s main territory only by a land corridor of around 60 km (37 miles) between Poland and Lithuania known as the Suwalki gap.

Military experts warn that Russia, via Belarus, might capture the gap, gaining a land corridor to its heavily fortified exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.

U.S. troops are stationed in Germany but might not reach the Baltics fast enough in the event of such an attack, experts say.

“We have revisionism at this moment going on in Russia … from that perspective we cannot be late here,” Pabriks said, referring to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he would reverse the collapse of the Soviet Union if he had a chance to alter modern Russian history.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Afghan army collapse ‘took us all by surprise,’ U.S. defense secretary

By Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress on Tuesday that the Afghan army’s sudden collapse caught the Pentagon off-guard as he acknowledged miscalculations in America’s longest war including corruption and damaged morale in Afghan ranks.

“The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise,” Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”

Austin was speaking at the start of two days of what are expected to be some of the most contentious hearings in memory over the chaotic end to the war in Afghanistan, which cost the lives of U.S. troops and civilians and left the Taliban back in power.

The Senate and House committees overseeing the U.S. military are holding hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, where Republicans are hoping to zero in on what they see as mistakes that President Joe Biden’s administration made toward the end of the two-decade-old war.

It follows similar questioning two weeks ago that saw U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken staunchly defending the administration, even as he faced calls for his resignation.

Austin praised American personnel who helped airlift 124,000 Afghans out of the country, an operation that also cost the lives of 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghans in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport.

“Was it perfect? Of course not,” Austin said, noting the desperate Afghans who killed trying to climb the side of a U.S. military aircraft or the civilians killed in the last U.S. drone strike of the war.

Senator James Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, squarely blamed the Biden administration for what critics say was a shameful end to a 20-year endeavor. Inhofe said Biden ignored the recommendations of his military leaders and left many Americans behind after the U.S. withdrawal.

“We all witnessed the horror of the president’s own making,” Inhofe said of Afghanistan.

Many of the hardest questions may fall to the two senior U.S. military commanders testifying: Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Taliban hail victory with gunfire after last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan

(Reuters) – Celebratory gunfire resounded across the Afghan capital on Tuesday as the Taliban took control of the airport following the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops, marking the end of a 20-year war that left the Islamist group stronger than it was in 2001.

Shaky video footage distributed by the Taliban showed fighters entering the airport after the last U.S. troops flew out on a C-17 aircraft a minute before midnight, ending a hasty and humiliating exit for Washington and its NATO allies.

“It is a historical day and a historical moment,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference at the airport after the departure. “We are proud of these moments, that we liberated our country from a great power.”

An image from the Pentagon taken with night-vision optics showed the last U.S. soldier to step aboard the final evacuation flight out of Kabul – Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.

America’s longest war took the lives of nearly 2,500 U.S. troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans, and cost some $2 trillion.

Although it succeeded in driving the Taliban from power and stopped Afghanistan being used by al Qaeda as a base to attack the United States, it ended with the hardline militants controlling more territory than when they last ruled.

The Taliban brutally enforced their strict interpretation of Islamic law from 1996 to 2001, not least by oppressing women, and the world is watching now to see if the movement will form a more moderate and inclusive government in the months ahead.

Long lines formed in Kabul on Tuesday outside banks shuttered since the fall of the capital as people tried to get money to pay for increasingly expensive food.

There was a mixture of triumph and elation on the one side as the Taliban celebrated their victory, and fear on the other.

“I had to go to the bank with my mother but when I went, the Taliban (were) beating women with sticks,” said a 22-year-old woman who spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared for her safety.

She said the attack occurred among a crowd outside a branch of the Azizi Bank next to the Kabul Star Hotel in the center of the capital.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen something like that and it really frightened me.”

Thousands of Afghans have already fled the country, fearing Taliban reprisals.

More than 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in a massive but chaotic airlift by the United States and its allies over the past two weeks, but many of those who helped Western nations during the war were left behind.

A contingent of Americans, estimated by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at fewer than 200, and possibly closer to 100, wanted to leave but were unable to get on the last flights.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab put the number of UK nationals in Afghanistan in the low hundreds, following the evacuation of some 5,000.

‘LOT OF HEARTBREAK’

General Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, told a Pentagon briefing that the chief U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, was on the last C-17 flight out.

“There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure,” McKenzie told reporters. “We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out. But I think if we’d stayed another 10 days, we wouldn’t have gotten everybody out.”

The departing U.S. troops destroyed more than 70 aircraft and dozens of armored vehicles. They also disabled air defenses that had thwarted an attempted Islamic State rocket attack on the eve of their departure.

As the Taliban watched U.S. troops leave Kabul on Monday night, at least seven of their fighters were killed in clashes in the Panjshir valley north of the capital, two members of the main anti-Taliban opposition group said.

Several thousand anti-Taliban fighters, from local militias as well as remnants of army and special forces units, have gathered in the valley under the command of regional leader Ahmad Massoud.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. military was not concerned with images of Taliban members walking through Kabul airport holding weapons and sizing up U.S. helicopters.

“They can inspect all they want,” he told CNN. “They can look at them. They can walk around. They can’t fly. They can’t operate them…”

But he said that “the threat environment” remains high.

“We’re obviously concerned about the potential for Taliban retribution going forward and we certainly, we saw it ourselves, are mindful of the threat that ISIS-K continues to pose inside Afghanistan.”

ISIS-K is the Islamic State affiliate that claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing outside Kabul airport on Thursday that killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghan civilians.

U.S. President Joe Biden defended his decision to stick to Tuesday’s withdrawal deadline. He said the world would hold the Taliban to their commitment to allow safe passage for those wanting to leave Afghanistan.

Biden has said the United States long ago achieved the objectives it set in 2001, when it ousted the Taliban for harboring al Qaeda militants who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks.

But he has drawn heavy criticism from Republicans and some fellow Democrats for his actions since the Taliban took over Kabul this month after a lightning advance and the collapse of the U.S.-backed government.

Blinken said the United States was prepared to work with the new Taliban government if it did not carry out reprisals against opponents.

Taliban spokesman Mujahid said the group wanted to establish diplomatic relations with the United States, despite the two decades of hostility. “The Islamic Emirate wants to have good diplomatic relations with the whole world,” he said.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Steven Coates, Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie; Editing by Kevin Liffey/Mark Heinrich)

U.S. to prioritize troop evacuation in last two days of Kabul operation

By Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. military will continue evacuating people from Kabul airport until an Aug. 31 deadline if needed, but will prioritize the removal of U.S. troops and military equipment on the last couple of days, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

There are about 5,400 troops at the airport, a number that President Joe Biden says is set to go down to zero by the end of the month, depending on cooperation from the Taliban.

Army Major General William Taylor, with the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, told a news briefing more than 10,000 people were at Kabul airport waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan.

He said that in the previous 24 hours, 90 U.S. military and other international flights had evacuated 19,000 more people, bringing the total evacuation number so far to about 88,000. He said one plane had departed every 39 minutes.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that a total of 4,400 American nationals had so far been evacuated from Kabul, but that he did not know how many were still there. Over the weekend, the number stood at about 2,500.

“If you’re an evacuee that we can get out, we’re going to continue to get you out right up until the end… But in the last couple of days … we will begin to prioritize military capabilities and military resources to move out,” Kirby said.

In addition to American citizens, both at-risk Afghans and people from such other countries as Canada and Germany have been evacuated over the past 11 days.

Representatives Seth Moulton, a Democrat, and Peter Meijer, a Republican, both of whom served in the Iraq war before running for Congress, said in a statement on Tuesday that they went to Kabul to gather information as part of Congress’ oversight role.

Kirby said the two members of the U.S. House of Representatives who traveled to Afghanistan on Tuesday had taken up scarce resources.

“They certainly took time away from what we had been planning to do that day,” he added.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom; Edited by Howard Goller)

Western nations race to complete Afghan evacuation as deadline looms

(Reuters) – Western nations rushed to evacuate people from Afghanistan on Wednesday as the Aug. 31 deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops drew closer and fears grew that many could be left behind to an uncertain fate under the country’s new Taliban rulers.

In one of the biggest such airlifts ever, the United States and its allies have evacuated more than 70,000 people, including their citizens, NATO personnel and Afghans at risk, since Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban swept into the capital Kabul to bring to an end the 20-year foreign military presence.

U.S. President Joe Biden said U.S. troops in Afghanistan faced mounting danger, while aid agencies warned of an impending humanitarian crisis for those left behind.

Biden has spurned calls from allies to extend the deadline, set under an agreement struck by the previous administration of Donald Trump with the hardline Islamist group last year. But he said on Tuesday the deadline could be met.

“The sooner we can finish, the better,” Biden said. “Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.”

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was growing concern about the risk of suicide bombings by Islamic State at the airport.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab said the deadline for evacuating people was up to the last minute of the month.

France said it would push on with evacuations as long as possible but it was likely to end these operations in the coming hours or days.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would try to help Afghans who worked with its soldiers and aid organizations and wished to leave Afghanistan after the deadline expires.

“The end of the air bridge in a few days must not mean the end of efforts to protect Afghan helpers and help those Afghans who have been left in a bigger emergency with the takeover of the Taliban,” she told the German parliament.

Tens of thousands of Afghans fearing persecution have thronged Kabul’s airport since the Taliban takeover, the lucky ones securing seats on flights.

On Wednesday, many people milled about outside the airport – where soldiers from the United States, Britain and other nations were trying to maintain order amid the dust and heat – hoping to get out.

They carried bags and suitcases stuffed with possessions, and waved documents at soldiers in the hope of gaining entry. One man, standing knee-deep in a flooded ditch, passed a child to a man above.

“I learned from an email from London that the Americans are taking people out, that’s why I’ve come so I can go abroad,” said one man, Aizaz Ullah.

While the focus is now on those trying to flee, the risk of starvation, disease and persecution is rising for the rest of the population, aid agencies say.

“There’s a perfect storm coming because of several years of drought, conflict, economic deterioration, compounded by COVID,” David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, told Reuters in Doha, saying that about 14 million people were threatened with starvation.

The U.N. human rights chief said she had received credible reports of serious violations by the Taliban, including “summary executions” of civilians and Afghan security forces who had surrendered. The Taliban have said they will investigate reports of atrocities.

The Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule was marked by harsh sharia law, with many political rights and basic freedoms curtailed and women severely oppressed. Afghanistan was also a hub for anti-Western militants, and Washington, London and others fear it might become so again.

LAND ROUTES

The Taliban said all foreign evacuations must be completed by Aug. 31. It has asked the United States to stop urging talented Afghans to leave while also trying to persuade people at the airport to go home, saying they had nothing to fear.

“Foreign troops should withdraw by the deadline. It will pave the way for resumption of civilian flights,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter.

“People with legal documents can travel through commercial flights after Aug. 31.”

The Dutch government said it was all but certain that many people eligible for asylum would not be taken out in time.

Dutch troops had managed to get more than 100 people to Kabul airport, Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag said, but hundreds of others risked being left behind.

The U.S.-backed government collapsed as the United States and its allies withdrew troops two decades after they ousted the Taliban in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda, whose leaders had found safe haven in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

The Taliban were also switching focus from their military victory to how to run a country in crisis. They have appointed veteran figures to the posts of finance minister and defense minister since wresting control of all government offices, the presidential palace and parliament, two Taliban members said.

Afghanistan’s Pajhwok news agency said Gul Agha had been named as finance minister and Sadr Ibrahim acting interior minister. Former Guantanamo detainee Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir was named acting defense minister, Al Jazeera news channel reported, citing a Taliban source.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Lincoln Feast, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Angus MacSwan, Giles Elgood and Nick Macfie)

Taliban vows to provide safe passage to Kabul airport, U.S. official says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Taliban has told the United States it will provide safe passage for civilians to reach the airport in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday.

Sullivan also told a White House news briefing that the United States believes the Kabul evacuation can go until Aug. 31 and it is talking to the Taliban about the exact timetable.

Thousands of U.S. troops have been flown into Kabul to assist in evacuation efforts after the collapse of Afghanistan’s military and government after swift advances by Taliban forces.

“The Taliban have informed us that they are prepared to provide the safe passage of civilians to the airport, and we intend to hold them to that commitment,” Sullivan said.

“We believe that this can go till the 31st. We are talking to them about what the exact timetable is for how this will all play out, and I don’t want to negotiate in public on working out the best modality to get the most people out in the most efficient way,” Sullivan added.

Sullivan said it is premature to say whether the United States recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate governing power in Afghanistan.

“Right now there is a chaotic situation in Kabul where we don’t even have the establishment of a governing authority,” Sullivan said. “Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed. The track record has not been good but it’s premature to address that question at this point.”

Sullivan said most people seeking to leave Afghanistan have been able to reach the airport, but the United States is addressing with the Taliban some reports of people being turned away.

“This is an hour-by-hour issue, and it’s something we’re very clear-eyed about, and very focused on holding the Taliban accountable to follow through on its execution,” he said.

Army Major General William Taylor, with the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, told a news briefing earlier on Tuesday that 4,000 U.S. troops would be at the airport by the end of the day – an increase of 1,000 – and the aim is to have one flight taking off per hour.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Lisa Lambert, Tim Ahmann, David Brunnstrom, adnrea Shala and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Chris Reese and Will Dunham)

Evacuation flights restart from Kabul after Afghans desperate to flee cleared from airfield

KABUL (Reuters) -U.S. military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians from Afghanistan restarted on Tuesday after the runway at Kabul airport was cleared of thousands desperate to flee following the Taliban’s sudden takeover of the capital.

The number of civilians had thinned out, a Western security official at the airport told Reuters, a day after chaotic scenes in which U.S. troops fired to disperse crowds and people clung to a U.S. military transport plane as it taxied for take-off.

“Runway in Kabul international airport is open. I see airplanes landing and taking off,” Stefano Pontecorvo, NATO’s civilian representative, said on Twitter.

At least 12 military flights had taken off, a diplomat at the airport said. Planes were due to arrive from countries including Australia and Poland to pick up their nationals and Afghan colleagues.

As they rush to evacuate civilians, foreign powers are also assessing how to respond to the new rulers in Kabul and also how to deal with refugees trying to flee the country.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush, who launched a “war on terror” in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said the United States must move quickly to help Afghan refugees.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the country was in talks with all parties in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, and was positive on their statements since they took control.

Under a U.S. troops withdrawal pact struck last year, the Taliban agreed not to attack foreign forces as they leave.

U.S. forces took charge of the airport – their only way to fly out of Afghanistan – on Sunday, as the militants wound up a week of rapid advances by taking over Kabul without a fight, 20 years after they were ousted by a U.S.-led invasion.

Flights were suspended for much of Monday, when at least five people were killed, witnesses said. Media reported two people fell to their deaths from the underside of a U.S. military aircraft after it took off.

U.S. troops killed two gunmen who appeared to have fired into the crowd at the airport, a U.S. official said.

U.S. President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces after 20 years of war – the nation’s longest – which he described as costing more than $1 trillion.

But a video of hundreds of desperate Afghans trying to clamber on to a U.S. military plane as it was about to take off could haunt the United States, just as a photograph in 1975 of people trying to get on a helicopter on a roof in Saigon became emblematic of the humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam.

Biden said he had to decide between asking U.S. forces to fight endlessly or follow through on a withdrawal agreement negotiated by his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said. “After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there.”

Facing criticism from even his own diplomats, he blamed the Taliban’s takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled and its army’s unwillingness to fight.

The Taliban captured Afghanistan’s biggest cities in days rather than the months predicted by U.S. intelligence. In many cases, demoralised government forces surrendered despite years of training and equipping by the United States and others.

40,000 WOUNDED

The Taliban began their push in the spring with attacks on government positions in the countryside and targeted killings in cities. The International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 40,000 people with wounds caused by weapons had been treated at facilities it supports in June, July and August, 7,600 of them since Aug. 1.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the hasty pullout of U.S. troops had a “serious negative impact”, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported, adding that Wang pledged to work with Washington to promote stability.

U.S. forces are due to complete their withdrawal by the end of this month under the deal with the Taliban that hinged on their promise not to let Afghanistan be used for international terrorism.

President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan on Sunday as the Islamist militants entered Kabul, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed.

That day, some 640 Afghans crammed into a U.S. C-17 transport aircraft to fly to Qatar, a photo taken inside the plane showed.

The U.N. Security Council called for talks to create a new government in Afghanistan after Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of “chilling curbs” on human rights and violations against women and girls.

During the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as public stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.

The Taliban have said there will be no retribution against opponents and promised to respect the rights of women, minorities and foreigners, but many Afghans are skeptical and fear old enemies and activists will be rounded up.

The top U.N. human rights official voiced concern about the safety of thousands of Afghans who have worked on human rights. The U.N. refugee agency called for a halt to forced returns of Afghans including asylum seekers whose requests had been rejected.

(Reporting by Kabul and other bureaus; Writing by Jane Wardell, Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Timothy Heritage and Nick Macfie)