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Diplomats, reporters, aid staff flee Afghanistan

U.N. staff leave Kabul
U.N. staff leave Kabul  

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- International diplomats, aid workers and many reporters evacuated Afghanistan on Thursday amid growing fears the country may be involved in retribution attacks by the U.S.

Reuters news agency also reported that many Arab nationals had fled the country and other residents had begun to build trenches.

Three United Nations flights left the capital Kabul on Thursday for Pakistan.

Afghanistan under the Taliban  
CNN's Nic Robertson in Kabul on the Taliban's reaction to the U.S. attack
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Former Afghan minister blames the Taliban

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CNN's Nic Robertson has more on the developments in Afghanistan after the attacks on the U.S. (September 12)

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On board were three international diplomats, from U.S., Germany and Australia.

They had been in the Kabul trying to secure the release of eight international aid workers on charges of converting Muslims to Christianity.

Also on board the aircraft were the last of the international U.N. staff. The U.N. has now completed the evacuation of 80 staff in total.

Before they left they paid off all local employees and packed key documents, taking them with them.

Many overseas journalists who had been reporting from Afghanistan also boarded the planes.

Despite previous reports, the International Committee for the Red Cross insists that it is remaining in the country with all offices open.

The reduction of all international and overseas workers by independent non-governmental aid groups is also under way and expected to be completed later Thursday.

'Sad catastrophe'

The departures have fuelled apprehension and fear on the streets about what will happen next.

Residents have been listening to Taliban-run radio where there have been reports of the events in the U.S.

Many Afghans, like the Taliban leadership, have condemned the terrorism attacks and offered their sympathy.

But CNN's Nic Robertson in Kabul reports that they are very concerned about the possibility that they could be involved in retribution attacks on Afghanistan.

The Taliban on Wednesday issued further statements condemning the terrorism in Washington and New York and appealing to the U.S. not to attack the country.

Taliban officials called the attack a "sad humanitarian catastrophe."

The Taliban appealed to the U.S. not to attack Afghanistan, saying the Afghan people were already in a great deal of misery.

Wednesday's statement came after a meeting between senior Pakistani diplomats and Taliban officials. Pakistan is one of the only countries that recognizes the Taliban government.

The Taliban was swift to deny any involvement in the terrorism attacks in New York and Washington.


Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel
Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel: no direct allegations  

Taliban officials also denied that Osama bin Laden, the millionaire Saudi fugitive blamed for past terrorist attacks against American targets, was behind the attacks.

Intelligence officials and other sources have told CNN that bin Laden -- living in sanctuary in Afghanistan -- or the Al Qaeda group he heads are considered suspects in the attacks.

"There are good indications that persons linked to Osama bin Laden may be responsible for these attacks," an intelligence official told CNN, echoing the sentiments of some U.S. politicians.

The Taliban gave sanctuary to bin Laden in 1996 mainly they say because of his role in war efforts that led to the withdrawal of Soviet Union forces from Afghanistan after 10-years of occupation.

Significantly, the population and leadership are also concerned that any attacks could open the door for the Northern Alliance -- effectively the opposition government in Afghanistan which has been engaged in a long running civil war with the Taliban.

The frontline of the conflict is around 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Kabul and has been more or less static for the past five years.

The Taliban fears that a sustained attack by the U.S. could help push forward an offensive from the Northern Alliance to retake Kabul.

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