Thousands of Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport 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.
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 organize 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, told The Associated Press that the chaos left seven dead, including several who fell from the flight.
he 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.
Meanwhile, all commercial flights were suspended at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, according to a statement by the airport authority.
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 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.
A US official said troops had fired in the air to deter people trying to force their way onto a military flight that was set to take US diplomats and embassy staff out of the fallen city.
By morning, Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory saying the civilian side of the airport had been closed until further notice and that the military controlled the airspace.
Afghanistan’s aviation authority said on Monday the country’s airspace had been “released to the military” and advised airlines to avoid its air corridors, prompting major airlines to divert flights in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.
The authority did not specify which military, given the collapse of local security forces in the face of the Taliban offensive.
But US forces have taken over air traffic control at Kabul airport.– Agencies
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 defense official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks not yet announced publicly.