Several deaths were reported amid chaotic scenes at the Afghan airport as U.S. forces resorted to aerial firing and using low-flying helicopters to disperse thousands of Afghan nationals who had crowded the tarmac in a desperate attempt to catch a flight out of the country, just a day after the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan’s capital.
Local media reports showed people running alongside and clinging on to the side of a departing U.S. Air Force C-17 plane as it took off from the runway only to plunge to their deaths after the aircraft gained altitude, according to New York Times journalist Christiaan Triebert.
Earlier in the day, witnesses told Reuters that at least five people were killed in Kabul Airport, but it’s unclear if these deaths are the result of stampede-like conditions or aerial firing by U.S. forces.
All commercial flights have been suspended from Kabul airport with only military aircraft being allowed to operate, according to a notice issued by U.S. officials.
Thousands of Afghan people entered the airport premises on Sunday evening, desperately hoping to catch a flight out of the country and videos from Monday morning showed hundreds trying to enter a plane by climbing the ladder on the side of a jet bridge.
U.S. state department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed that all U.S. Embassy staff have been evacuated to Kabul airport, the perimeter of which is secured by U.S. forces.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul tweeted that the situation in the city was unsafe as it urged American citizens and Afghan nationals to not travel to the airport until notified.
The Associated Press reported Monday that the death toll at the airport in Kabul had risen to seven people.
The Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday, facing zero resistance after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. The speed of the Taliban’s military blitz caught the U.S. and many of its allies off guard as they attempted to evacuate their embassy staff and other officials from the country. Earlier U.S. intelligence reports suggested that the western trained Afghan Army may be able to hold up the advancing Taliban forces from taking Kabul for another 90 days, well after the Biden administration’s August 31 deadline to evacuate all U.S. military presence from Afghanistan. On Sunday night, Washington deployed an additional 1,000 U.S. service personnel to support the 5,000 troops already mobilized in Kabul to assist the evacuation of Americans. The sudden exit of Western diplomats and personnel appears to have triggered panic among Afghan nationals, especially those who worked with foreign troops or embassies, who now fear relation from the Taliban. After taking power, the militant group has attempted to project calm by circulating videos showing quiet city streets. But reports of Taliban reprisals against former Afghan government troops have begun to crop up on social media and many Afghans have publicly expressed fear for their lives. With the Taliban controlling all land crossings out of Afghanistan, Kabul airport remains the only way out of the country.
Taliban seek to project calm as US speeds chaotic evacuation (Associated Press)