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.
Latest pictures from Kabul Airport. People are on their own now while the world watches in silence. Only sane advise to Afghan people…RUN pic.twitter.com/RQGw28jFYx
— Sudhir Chaudhary (@sudhirchaudhary) August 16, 2021
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.
Insane. Don’t have any other words.
The Kabul Airport.
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) August 16, 2021
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.
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.
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.