Photo: Twitter / TOLO News / Nicola Careem
Kabul’s airport descended into scenes of deadly chaos on Monday, as thousands of people desperately tried to force their way onto flights out of Afghanistan following the lightning-fast Taliban takeover of the country.Footage from Hamid Karzai International Airport—only 5km from the centre of Kabul—showed startling scenes of crowds streaming across the tarmac, at one point running alongside and clambering on board a moving U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it prepared to take off.
Harrowing footage on social media appeared to show men falling to their deaths from the plane after it took flight.There were numerous reports of fatalities amid the chaos. US troops fatally shot two armed men who approached soldiers at the airport, where they were providing security for the massive evacuation operation, according to multiple reports citing a US official.A Reuters report said five people had been killed in the chaos at the airport, citing witnesses, but it was not clear how they had died.
Gunfire was reportedly heard throughout the day, with a U.S. official saying the American troops had fired into the air to scatter crowds attempting to force their way on to planes, seeking to escape a future under the hard-line rule of the Taliban, who were toppled following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.One video circulating on social media showed dozens of men clambering onto the overhead gangway of a departing flight in an attempt to force their way on board.
The Taliban completed a shocking takeover of the country on Sunday with the capture of the capital, entering the presidential palace and forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee abroad. The resounding victory of the fundamentalist Islamist group, so soon after the U.S withdrawal of its forces, has sent shockwaves through Western capitals, fuelling grave fears for the future of Afghans under the group’s hard-line rule.As the Taliban patrolled the streets of the Afghan capital, U.S. troops secured a razor-wire perimeter at the airport to oversee the emergency evacuation of foreign nationals, and Afghans who had worked for them, from the country.
Western governments scrambled to coordinate evacuation flights for their nationals and Afghan support staff, advising their citizens in the Afghan capital to remain in place and not travel to the airport until they were called for, due to the risks involved. Embassy staff were being flown by helicopter to the section of the airport under control of US troops.More than 60 countries called in a statement for the Taliban to allow people – Afghans and foreign nationals – to safely leave the country if they wished to do so.The US said on Sunday it was sending an additional 1,000 troops to secure the airport, bringing the total to about 6,000 to facilitate the evacuation efforts. It aims to fly out up to 5,000 civilians a day—Americans and Afghan nationals who worked with them.
According to an Associated Press report, citing an unnamed US defence official, Gen. Frank McKenzie – the head of US Central Command – met in-person with Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar on Sunday to urge them not to block the evacuation operation. According to the report, McKenzie secured their agreement to establish a “deconfliction mechanism” to allow the evacuation to continue without fighting.But the chaos that has surrounded the swifter-than-expected capture of the country by the Taliban has left Western government officials to concede that they won’t be able to safely get everyone home.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace broke down during an interview with UK radio station LBC on Monday as he admitted “some people won’t get back” from Afghanistan.Meanwhile a former Australian defence force chief, Retired Admiral Chris Barrie, said his government had “left it far too late” to organise its evacuation efforts, saying he feared brutal repercussions for Afghans who had worked alongside the Australian deployment in the country.
The Australian government has said it is working with partners to secure the evacuation of its citizens and Afghan nationals who supported them, and intends to send two military transport aircraft with more than 250 troops later this week
“There will be reprisals [from the Taliban], there will be paybacks, there will be all sorts of brutalities that, I guess, will dribble out over the next period of time,” he told Australia’s ABC.“For all of those people who helped us — God help them. God help them.”Despite US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s insistence on Sunday that the fall of Kabul was “manifestly not Saigon,” the rapid collapse of the US-backed Afghan government to the Taliban – bringing a chaotic, humiliating and potentially bloody end to a 20-year conflict – has prompted fierce criticism of US President Joe Biden at home. Meanwhile a number of Western governments expressed surprise at the speed of the US withdrawal; German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters on Sunday that it had been "difficult to endure" watching the Taliban’s swift capture of the country. Two days earlier, Wallace, the UK Defence Secretary, called the US decision to leave Afghanistan a “mistake,” and the withdrawal agreement that preceded it a “rotten deal.”Commenting on the situation at Kabul airport Monday, US terrorism expert Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the conservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, pinned the blame for the unfolding chaos squarely on US leadership.“Our soldiers on the ground have been given an impossible task and are executing it to the best of their abilities,” he tweeted. “Their leaders in Washington have failed them.”