Desperate Afghans clung to the side of a moving US military plane leaving Kabul airport today, with at least three people apparently falling to their deaths from the undercarriage immediately after takeoff.
A video clip shows hundreds of people running alongside the plane as it roams the runway of Kabul International Airport. A number hangs on the side of the C-17A, just below the wing. Others run side by side, waving and screaming.
As it soared above the Afghan capital, several people appeared to be drowning from the plane, one by one. The terrified spectators point to the sky. A second video shows the bodies of three people – two men and a woman – lying on the ground in the airport complex.
Desperate Afghans hang from plane tires and fall from the sky near Kabul airport pic.twitter.com/OhIscfDNWd
– Rajipsoylu (@ragipsoylu) August 16, 2021
The chaotic and tragic scenes at the airport after Kabul fell to the Taliban is likely to become a defining symbol of the West’s failure in Afghanistan. It follows the evacuation of the US embassy and other diplomatic missions by helicopter on Sunday, in images reminiscent of the 1975 fall of Saigon.
Despite Taliban assurances that there will be no reprisals against the civilian population, thousands of Afghans today are trying to flee. The airport – secured by the US military – was the only possible way out after the Islamist group took control of the country’s land borders.
On Sunday evening, the Taliban moved to the presidential palace after Afghan President-elect Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Access to Hamid Karzai Airport, three miles (5 kilometers) from the center of the capital, is now only possible through Taliban checkpoints.
The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and a host of other coalition countries are seeking to evacuate their citizens. The southern civilian side of the airport came under fire on Sunday, and on Monday morning there were reports that US forces had fired into the air to disperse the rising crowd.
Videos from the airport show people streaming into the terminal building. Thousands – including parents carrying babies – were seen rushing onto the tarmac. There are also American Humvees on the ground at the airport. In one of the videos, a woman shouts: “Look at the condition of the people of Afghanistan.”
As the day approaches in Afghanistan, a video has emerged showing thousands of Afghan men, women and children flocking towards smashed civilian planes on the tarmac, as hundreds try to find their way on board.
– AIRLIVE (airlivenet) August 16, 2021
Shooting at the airport forced some passengers to flee to shelters while they waited for flights out of the country.
Masoumeh Tajik, a 22-year-old data analyst, was among hundreds of Afghans eagerly waiting to board an evacuation flight. “I see people crying, they are not sure if their trip will happen or not. She said over the phone, panic in her voice.
A NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft could operate.
US military officials oversaw air traffic control in the field, which was still run by Afghan nationals. An additional 1,000 US troops were sent into the country – bringing the number of newly deployed to 6000 – to help secure the airport. The United States announced Monday morning that it had secured the airport perimeter.
There were unconfirmed reports – backed up by video – that commercial planes were overwhelmed to board, and some people had to take off flights because the planes were too overweight to take off.
Throughout Sunday, panic reigned in Kabul. As helicopters were ferrying US citizens from the US embassy to the airport, smoke rose near the US compound as staff destroyed sensitive documents, and the US flag was lowered and removed.
France, Germany and the Netherlands, all members of NATO, said they were withdrawing their diplomats from their embassies.
Fearing that the Taliban could re-impose the brutal rule they had imposed before 2001, Afghans sought ways out of the country, queuing in front of automated teller machines to withdraw their savings.
Those who fled to the supposedly safe capital from Taliban-controlled areas stayed in parks and open spaces across the city.
On Sunday, the Taliban captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without resistance from government forces, giving them control of one of the main highways to landlocked Afghanistan from Pakistan.
They also captured the nearby Torkham border post with Pakistan, leaving the Kabul airport as the only way out of Afghanistan, which is still under government control.
The US embassy in Kabul said the situation in the city was unpredictable. “The security situation in Kabul is changing rapidly, including at the airport,” she added. There are reports of shooting at the airport. So we are asking US citizens to take cover.” Almost all US Embassy staff are now at the airport.
Ghani fled the country before the rebels entered – reportedly to Tashkent – saying he wanted to “prevent a flood of bloodshed”.
“The Taliban have won by virtue of their swords and guns, and they are now responsible for the honor, property, and self-preservation of their citizens,” he said.
In a joint statement, the US and Defense Departments said US citizens and local staff at the US mission in Kabul will be evacuated along with “other Afghan nationals at particular risk” in the coming days.
We will expedite the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for special US immigrant visas, 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States in the past two weeks. For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. And we will find additional sites for those not yet screened.”
Asked if the evacuation referred to the chaos of the United States’ departure from Vietnam in 1975, US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said: “Let’s take a step back. This is clearly not Saigon.”
But in a sign of the chaotic and desperate situation, the British ambassador in Kabul, Sir Laurie Bristow, is reported to be at Hamid Karzai airport to help the handful of diplomats still in the country processing requests from Afghan nationals who worked alongside British forces. Now trying to get out of the country.
After the British Foreign Office initially said that 34 Chevening scholars who were about to travel to the UK to study at British universities could not come because their visas could not be processed at the Kabul embassy, Boris Johnson stepped in, saying: ‘Make sure they are able to come and so we We are doing our best to expedite their visas to obtain them as well.”
Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naim said they had achieved “what we were seeking, which is the freedom of our country and the independence of our people.”
“We will not allow anyone to use our land to target anyone, and we do not want to harm others,” Naim said. He said that the group will not interfere in the affairs of others, and in return, it will not allow interference in their affairs. “We do not believe that foreign forces will repeat their failed experience in Afghanistan again.”
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