Afghanistan: Video shows people falling off plane; 7 killed in airport chaos
Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of people running across the tarmac as US troops fired warning shots in the air.
Thousands of Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport on Monday, so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto an American military jet as it took off and plunged to death in chaos that killed at least seven people, US officials said.
The crowds of people rushing the airport came as the Taliban enforced their rule over the wider capital after a lightning advance across the country that took just over a week to dethrone the country’s Western-backed government. While there were no major reports of abuses, many stayed home and remained fearful as the insurgents’ advance saw prisons emptied and armouries looted.
The Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing an end to a two-decade campaign in which the US and its allies had tried to transform Afghanistan.
Residents raced to Kabul’s international airport, where the “civilian side” was closed until further notice, according to Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority. The US military and other Western forces continued to organise evacuations.
Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of people running across the tarmac as US troops fired warning shots in the air. One showed a crowd pushing and shoving its way up a staircase, trying to board a plane, with some people hanging off the railings.
In another video, hundreds of people could be seen running alongside a US Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moved down a runway. Some clung to the side of the jet just before takeoff. Another video showed several falling through the air as the airplane rapidly gained altitude over the city.
Senior military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing operation, said that the chaos left seven dead, including several who fell from the flight.
The storming of the airport, seen from space by passing satellites, raised questions about how much longer aircraft would be able to safely take off and land.
Shafi Arifi, who had a ticket to travel to Uzbekistan on Sunday, was unable to board her plane because it was packed with people who had raced across the tarmac and climbed aboard, with no police or airport staff in sight.
“There was no room for us to stand,” said the 24-year-old. “Children were crying, women were shouting, young and old men were so angry and upset, no one could hear each other. There was no oxygen to breathe.”
After another woman fainted and was carried off the plane, Arifi gave up and went back home.
The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport to aid with the evacuation. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and nationals.
Afghans are also trying to leave through land border crossings, all of which are now controlled by the Taliban. Rakhmatula Kuyash, 30, was one of the few people with a visa allowing him to cross into Uzbekistan on Sunday. He said his children and relatives had to stay behind.
“I’m lost and I don’t know what to do. I left everything behind,” he said.
A senior US official said “it’s heartbreaking” to see what’s happening in Kabul, but that President Joe Biden “stands by” his decision to pull out because he didn’t want the war there — already the longest in US history — to enter a third decade.
In interviews with US television networks, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan blamed the Afghan military for the Taliban’s rapid takeover, saying it lacked the will to fight.
The ease with which the Taliban took control goes beyond military prowess, however, the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor wrote.
“The speed of the Taliban’s final advance suggests less military dominance than effective political insurgency coupled with an incohesive Afghan political system and security force struggling with flagging morale,” it said.
The lightning Taliban offensive through the country appears to have stunned American officials. Just days before the insurgents entered Kabul with little if any resistance, a US military assessment predicted it could take months for the capital to fall.
The rout threatened to erase 20 years of Western efforts to remake Afghanistan that saw more than 3,500 US and allied troops killed as well as tens of thousands of Afghans.
Meanwhile, the head of US Central Command met face-to-face with senior Taliban leaders in Qatar and won their agreement to establish an arrangement under which evacuation operations at the airport can continue without interference, a US defence official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks not yet announced publicly.
But some worried those promises are hollow. On Monday, Nillan, a 27-year-old resident of Kabul, said she didn’t see a single woman out on the streets during a 15-minute drive, “only men and boys”.
“It feels like time has stopped. Everything’s changed,” she said. She added even the most independent Afghan women now have to worry about the simplest things, such as how to get groceries in the absence of a male escort.
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