Irish woman in Kabul tells of ‘panic and fear all over the city’

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An Irish woman currently in Kabul says she is hoping she will be able to leave and return home in the next 48 hours.

Aoife MacManus, from Ashbourne in Meath, has been in the Afghan city for two years working in the primary education sector. She is one of the small number of Irish citizens still in Afghanistan and trying to flee from the Taliban.

“There is a sense of panic and fear all over the city,” Ms MacManus told the PA news agency.

“This last 24 hours has been so crazy, I don’t know how many places I’ve been.”

Things are “chaotic” across the city, she said.

There were dramatic scenes on Monday at Kabul Airport as Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of the capital’s airport as thousands tried to escape the country.

Ms McManus said uncertainty was driving some of the fears: “There is a sense of panic and fear all over the city. It’s the fear of the worst expectations.”

She described the scenes as her and her colleagues left their work compound on Sunday: “We were all crying. Everybody was crying because of the expectations of what things are going to be like.”

“All the work we’ve put into education, that it might all be for nothing.”

In recent months, as the situation worsened across the country, she had been in contact with the Irish embassy in Abu Dhabi and that contact has intensified in recent days as the Taliban drew closer to the Afghan capital.

Now, she hopes she will be able to leave in the next two days – once the security situation at the airport has settled down.

“From what I’ve heard, it will take at least two days for the airport to be put back in order,” she said.

Ms MacManus is in contact with her family back in Ireland.

She added: “They’re really worried. They’ve been worried for the last couple of weeks.

“I have people lighting candles and saying Mass and all kinds of things. What can I say? I’m not in a normal situation.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The minister said his department has been helping Irish nationals evacuate on commercial flights, but they have been cancelled.

There is now an effort to find alterative routes out for nationals and foreigners by working with other EU countries, the UK and the US.

Like many others, the speed of the fall of Kabul came as a shock to her. “We woke up this morning with checkpoints everywhere,” she said on Monday.

Over the last 24 hours, she has passed through several Taliban checkpoints and says she did not even realise it was the Taliban on guard the first time they passed a checkpoint.

“It’s quite intimidating, you can spot them a mile off.”

On Monday evening, she said she noticed that Taliban fighters were now manning police cars.

“It’s been one night, but it’s definitely changed,” she said.

Ms MacManus said she had always dressed carefully in the city but the arrival of the Taliban makes thinking about her attire much more important.

“I’ve dressed conservatively here since the start,” she said. “Today, my scarf is tighter.”

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