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Mary Kelly: We must open our doors to the Afghan refugees of the Taliban takeover

Some Afghans were so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held on to a US Air Force transport plane as it took off, with some falling to their death

"THIS is manifestly not Saigon," the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken told the ABC network, rejecting any comparison between America's hasty departure from Afghanistan and the humiliating exit from Vietnam 46 years ago summed up by that potent image of the last helicopter taking off from the roof of the US Embassy.

It was not Saigon. It was far, far worse.

The abiding image of western withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years will be the sight of dozens of desperate men clinging to the wheels of the departing US military aircraft. At least two were seen falling to their deaths from thousands of feet.

It was a shocking sight. The panic and chaos at Kabul airport as frantic people tried to flee from the victorious Taliban was surely a blot on the international community's reputation that will not easily be erased.

It was not President Joe Biden's finest hour. His 'Je ne regrette rien' speech to the nation might well be in tune with what the average American thinks about putting their soldiers' lives on the line for a far off country of which they know little. But it leaves a sour taste from the man who announced "America is back" to the world after the Trump years of isolationist, America First foreign policy.

And yes, it was Trump who kick-started the process by negotiating a deal with the Taliban at Doha in February last year, in return for its promise not to allow training, fundraising or recruitment of terrorists, including al Qaida that would threaten the United States or its allies.

And it was Trump's May 1 deadline for withdrawal that gave sustenance to the Taliban and killed off morale in the Afghan army.

But that timetable did not need to be followed. While Biden was probably right that the US needed to disengage, the unnecessary haste has caused the chaos we see today.

It might have all happened faster than anyone expected, but not fast enough to significantly alter the President's holiday plans, nor indeed those of Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab.

Little wonder that British ex-military and security figures criticised their "dereliction of duty". They pointed to a letter written three weeks ago by 44 retired army officers warning of their concerns about the safety of Afghan interpreters, which they said had gone unheeded.

Of the many harrowing accounts from Afghan women, terrified about their future under a strengthened Taliban regime, despite its honeyed words, one stands out: A young teacher told how she and her sisters had run home to hide their diplomas and certificates and were desperately trying to find burqas - those all enveloping totems of female oppression - while Taliban fighters roamed the streets searching for women and girls they deemed to be immodestly dressed.

She said the Afghan men standing around made fun of the girls, telling them to go and put their burqas on. "It's your last days of being out on the streets," said one, while another shouted: "I will marry four of you in one day."

The lack of solidarity was shocking. "All I could see around me were the fearful and scared faces of women and the ugly faces of men who hate women, who do not like women to get educated, work or have freedom."

What can the rest of the world do now beyond hand-wringing and blaming the Afghan army for their lack of fight? They can open their doors to the inevitable floods of refugees for a start.

And perhaps they should condemn Austria, which is continuing to deport rejected Afghan asylum-seekers. France, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have since suspended the policy.

Albania, a country of just 4.2 million, is taking in hundreds of refugees every day. "I am devastated to see people left behind and I want to give them at least the possibility to breathe again," the country's Prime Minister, Edi Rama, told the Guardian.

"We know what it's like to live under a dictatorship and what it's like to be a foreigner seeking shelter. It's an honour and a duty to do this."

We could go some way towards making amends to the Afghan people if all political leaders followed his example.

And while we are condemning the women-hating Taliban, perhaps it's long overdue for governments and social media companies to take a tougher line on the 'incel' anti-woman culture poisoning the minds of hopeless individuals like the man who murdered five people, including a three-year-old in Plymouth. If that isn't terrorism, I don't know what is.

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