search

5 killed at Kabul airport amid reports of shooting, stampedes, falling stowaways

Chaos at airfield as desperate Afghans and foreigners try to leave; US officials admit American troops fired in air to dispel crowds; reports of stowaways falling from plane wheels

  • Afghans (L) crowd at the airport as US soldiers (R) stand guard in Kabul on August 16, 2021. (Shakib Rahmani / AFP)
    Afghans (L) crowd at the airport as US soldiers (R) stand guard in Kabul on August 16, 2021. (Shakib Rahmani / AFP)
  • US soldiers take up positions as they secure the airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021. (Shakib Rahmani/AFP)
    US soldiers take up positions as they secure the airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021. (Shakib Rahmani/AFP)
  • Taliban fighters stand guard at the main gate leading to the Afghan presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 16, 2021 (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    Taliban fighters stand guard at the main gate leading to the Afghan presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 16, 2021 (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • A Taliban fighter mans a machinegun on top of a vehicle as they patrol along a street in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (Wakil Kohsar / AFP)
    A Taliban fighter mans a machinegun on top of a vehicle as they patrol along a street in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (Wakil Kohsar / AFP)
  • Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport on August 16, 2021, to flee the country as the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and conceded the insurgents had won the 20-year war. (AFP)
    Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport on August 16, 2021, to flee the country as the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and conceded the insurgents had won the 20-year war. (AFP)
  • Taliban fighters stand guard along a roadside near the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (Wakil Kohsar / AFP)
    Taliban fighters stand guard along a roadside near the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (Wakil Kohsar / AFP)

Witnesses said Monday that at least five people had died among the chaos at Kabul airport amid the frantic rush by thousands of foreigners and Afghans to flee to safety after a stunningly swift Taliban takeover of the heart of Afghanistan’s capital.

The Reuters news agency said witnesses reported seeing at least five bodies at the airfield.

It was unclear if they were shot or died during a stampede, or whether there might be any other causes of death.

A US official said American troops fired into the air to scatter crowds running to try and board planes. There was no official comment from the US on the deaths.

Some reports suggested that people had tied themselves to the wheels of planes and fallen to the ground as the aircraft flew over Kabul.

Video posted to social media showed chaotic scenes on the runway as desperate Afghans rushed to try to board aircraft, not knowing if these might be the final flights.

Taliban forces moved early Sunday into a capital beset by fear and declared they were awaiting a peaceful surrender, capping a stunning sweep of Afghanistan in just the past week.

The US poured thousands of fresh troops into the country temporarily to safeguard what was gearing up to be a large-scale airlift. It announced late Sunday it was taking charge of air-traffic control at the airport, even as it lowered the flag at the US Embassy.

NATO allies that had pulled out their forces ahead of the Biden administration’s intended August 31 withdrawal deadline were also rushing troops back in to airlift their citizens.

The arrival of the first waves of Taliban insurgents into Kabul prompted the US to evacuate the embassy building in full, leaving only acting ambassador Ross Wilson and a core of other diplomats operating at the airport.

Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport on August 16, 2021, to flee the country as the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and conceded the insurgents had won the 20-year war. (AFP)

Even as CH-47 helicopters shuttled American diplomats to the airport, and facing criticism at home over the administration’s handling of the withdrawal, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected comparisons to the 1975 fall of Saigon.

“This is being done in a very deliberate way, it’s being done in an orderly way,” Blinken insisted on ABC’s “This Week.”

A joint statement from the US State and Defense departments pledged late Sunday to fly thousands of Americans, local embassy staff and other “particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals” out of the country. It gave no details, but high-profile Afghan women, journalists, and Afghans who’ve worked with Western governments and nonprofits are among those who fear Taliban targeting for alleged Western ways or ties.

The statement promised to speed up visa processing for Afghans who used to work with American troops and officials in particular. Underscoring the difficulty the US has had getting those Afghans out ahead of the Taliban, the statement could only assure “we will find” other countries to host some of those Afghans.

Educated Afghan women have some of the most to lose under the fundamentalist Taliban, whose past government, overthrown by the US-led invasion in 2001, sought to largely confine women to the home.

A Taliban fighter mans a machinegun on top of a vehicle as they patrol along a street in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (Wakil Kohsar / AFP)

To many, however, the evacuations, and last-ditch rescue attempts by Americans and other foreigners trying to save Afghan allies, appeared far from orderly.

Hundreds or more Afghans crowded in a part of the airport away from many of the evacuating Westerners. Some of them, including a man with a broken leg sitting on the ground, lined up for what was expected to be a last flight out by the country’s Ariana Airlines.

The Pentagon intends to have enough aircraft to fly out as many as 5,000 civilians a day, both Americans and the Afghan translators and others who worked with the US during the war.

But tens of thousands of Afghans who have worked with US and other NATO forces are seeking to flee with family members. And it was by no means clear how long Kabul’s deteriorating security would allow any evacuations to continue.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed