Chaos, Panic as Afghans, Foreigners Attempt To Flee Via Kabul Airport
By Staff, The Guardian
Thousands of Afghans and foreign nationals have surged on to the tarmac at Kabul airport seeking a place on a flight out of the country, amid chaotic scenes that unfolded as the Taliban took control of the city.
With the Taliban installed in the presidential palace and the elected president having fled the country, access to Hamid Karzai airport, five kilometers from the center of the capital, was possible only through Taliban checkpoints.
The US, UK, Germany, Canada and a host of other nations are all seeking to evacuate their nationals from the country. The southern – civilian – side of the airport came under fire on Sunday, and on Monday morning, with reports that US troops had fired into the air to disperse surging crowds.
Foreign embassies warned their nationals and Afghan citizens it was not safe to travel to the airport, and only to go there if instructed. Embassy staff are being helicoptered to the military side of the airport, which has been secured by US soldiers.
Videos from the airport showed people pouring into the terminal building, and scenes of dozens being pulled into the back of a C-17A military aircraft on the tarmac.
Thousands of people – including parents carrying young children – are seen surging towards planes on the airfield. US Humvees are also on the ground at the airport.
Thousands of Afghan men, women, and children streamed towards grounded civilian planes on the tarmac, with hundreds trying to find a way onboard.
Gunfire at the airport had forced some passengers into shelters as they awaited flights out of the country.
Meanwhile, a NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft were able to operate.
US military officials were overseeing air traffic control at the field, which was still being run by Afghan nationals. An additional 1,000 US occupation troops flown into the country, bringing the number of newly deployed to 6,000.
France, Germany and the Netherlands, all NATO members, have said they were pulling their diplomats out of their embassies.
Fearful that the Taliban could reimpose the brutal rule they enforced before 2001, Afghans sought ways out of the country, lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings.
Those who had fled to the presumed safety of the capital from Taliban-controlled regions remained camped in parks and open spaces throughout the city.
On Sunday, the Taliban captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without resistance from government forces, giving them control of one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan from Pakistan.