Chaotic scenes at Kabul’s international airport turned deadly Monday as thousands of Afghans converged in the hope of catching an evacuation flight after the Taliban’s takeover of their country.
Violence erupts at Kabul airport as Afghans try to flee Taliban
In separate incidents at the airport on Monday, U.S. troops shot and killed two armed men at the airport and at least three Afghans clinging to the side of an Air Force jet were run over and killed, according to a U.S. official.
The U.S. military took over the security of Hamid Karzai International Airport to facilitate a massive airlift of foreign diplomats and citizens after the Afghan government collapsed on Sunday.
The U.S. will send an additional 1,000 troops to the airport to help restore order and evacuate American and Afghan personnel, the Pentagon said Monday. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had authorized the additional forces out of an abundance of caution.
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing:
Mr. Kirby also said the Pentagon would use two more military airbases, in addition to one in Fort Lee, Va., to house Afghan interpreters who worked for the U.S. and others outside of Afghanistan.
President Biden will return to the White House on Monday to deliver remarks on Afghanistan, the White House said. Mr. Biden had been scheduled to remain at Camp David, where he spent the weekend, until Wednesday.
Video images from the Kabul airport on Monday showed people holding on to a military plane moving along the tarmac and appeared to show two objects fall off when the aircraft was hundreds of feet in the air. “I saw one person grabbing the plane when it moved and then later he fell down,” said a man at the airport.
Witnesses separately reported seeing three bloodied bodies, including that of one woman, on the ground outside the passenger terminal building.
Thousands of desperate Afghans—many of whom used to work for American forces—flocked to the airport as the victorious Taliban combed Kabul for those who had collaborated with the West. Rumors circulated that flights were taking passengers even without passports and tickets.
According to people trapped in the airport, American troops repeatedly shot in the air to disperse the crowds during the night. Hundreds of Afghan civilians were seen close to the runway and around parked planes Monday, with some hanging from boarding ramps as they scrambled to get into aircraft, hindering evacuation efforts.
The U.S. military used two military helicopters flying low overhead to try to disperse the crowds, using smoke grenades and firing shots into the air, passengers said. There were roughly 6,000 American troops in the Kabul airport or headed there, U.S. military officials said Sunday. More remained on standby in Kuwait.
U.S. officials have said the American troops in the airport reserved the right of self-defense, and if Taliban or other individuals interfered with operations at the airport, the U.S. forces would use lethal force if necessary.
Inside the terminal, shops were looted, passengers said, adding to the sense of panic.
Some Taliban fighters entered the airport and frequently shot in the air, terrifying passengers, travelers said.
The Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani left the country, effectively marking the end of a 20-year effort by the U.S. and other Western nations to remold Afghanistan into a modern democracy, only to see its armed forces collapse as American forces withdrew.
The Taliban said again Monday that they had issued orders to fighters—whom they call mujahedeen, or holy warriors—that they couldn’t enter homes without owners’ permission.
“Life, property, and honor of none shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahedeen,” said Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban, on Twitter.
Separately, another Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Naeem, told the Al Jazeera channel that the form of the new government in Afghanistan would be made clear soon. He also said that the group wants peaceful relations with other countries.
In Kabul, and in some other places, nongovernmental organizations reported that their offices were visited by Taliban fighters, who told them to register their activities with the group.
The Taliban also went Monday to Tolo News, the country’s most prominent private news channel, asked about the weapons kept by the security team at the heavily fortified Tolo offices, and collected firearms that had been issued by the government, the channel said.
“So far they are polite,” Saad Mohseni, director of Tolo’s parent company, said on Twitter. “They have also agreed to keep the compound safe.”
European nations, including France and Germany, said they were moving to evacuate their citizens along with some local Afghan staff, while Russia and Turkey said they would maintain their embassies, as did China.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace:
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Monday that 600 U.K. paratroopers and logistical staff had arrived in Kabul to help evacuate people.
About 300 U.K. passport holders have been evacuated. He told the British Broadcasting Corp. that a further 700 people would be evacuated in the next 24 to 36 hours, including Afghan nationals, with another 800 in a similar time period after that. He said the U.K. had the capacity to take out more than 1,000 people a day but that “processing speed” was limiting the numbers flying out.
Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, meanwhile, said in a notice to air carriers that airspace had been released to the military and advised transit flights to reroute, saying there would be no air traffic control.
The country’s airspace is regularly used by long-haul carriers. Flight tracking data Monday showed there were no commercial flights over Afghanistan.