Thousands of Afghans were so desperate to escape the Taliban that they clung to a military plane as it took off and plunged to their deaths. At least seven people died in the chaos, American officials said, as America’s longest war ended with its enemy as the victor.
Crowds arrived as the Taliban imposed their dominance over the capital of 5 million people after a lightning advance across the country that took just over a week to dethrone the Western-backed government. There were no major reports of abuses or clashes, but many residents stayed home and feared after advancing insurgents saw prisons emptied and armories looted.
Across the country, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that thousands of people had been injured in the clashes. Elsewhere, security forces and politicians surrendered their provinces and bases without a fight, probably believing that the two-decade Western experiment to remake Afghanistan would not survive the resurgence of the Taliban. The last American troops had planned to withdraw at the end of the month.
“The world is following the events in Afghanistan with heavy hearts and deep concern for what lies ahead,” warned United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
As the US military and others continued evacuation flights, Afghans swarmed the international airport runway. Some boarded planes parked on the taxiway, while others hung precariously from a jet bridge.
American troops took up positions to protect the active runway, but the crowd passed them and their armored vehicles. Shots rang out. When a US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III tried to take off, a helicopter ran low in front of it to try to get people off the runway.
Senior US 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. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said US forces killed two people he described as carrying weapons in the melee. He said an additional 1,000 US troops would be deployed to secure the airfield and support the 2,500 already there.
All flights at the airport, both military and civilian, were halted until Afghan civilians can be removed from the runway, Kirby added By late Monday night, hundreds of people remained trapped between US forces trying to drive them out of the airport and Taliban forces trying to keep them inside, witnesses said. An Associated Press reporter also saw what appeared to be an airstrike targeting two vehicles near the airport.
Shafi Arifi, who had a ticket to travel to Uzbekistan on Sunday, was unable to board his plane because it was full of people who had crossed the runway and got on board, with no police or airport personnel in sight.
“There was no place for us to stand up,” said the 24-year-old. “Children were crying, women were screaming, young and old were so angry and upset that no one could hear each other. There was no oxygen to breathe. ”
After a woman passed out and was taken off the plane, Arifi gave up and returned home Other Afghans, such as Rakhmatula Kuyash, are also trying to exit through land border crossings, all of which are now controlled by the Taliban.
“I’m lost and I don’t know what to do,” said Kuyash, who crossed into Uzbekistan on Sunday after leaving his children and relatives in Afghanistan. “I left everything behind.”
Others were not so lucky. Uzbekistan’s air defenses shot down an Afghan military plane attempting to enter the country without permission. The two pilots were reportedly injured and in custody.
Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani, who previously fled the country, faced Russian accusations that he fled Kabul with four cars and a helicopter full of cash. His whereabouts remain unclear The US embassy was evacuated and the US flag lowered, and diplomats moved to the airport to assist with the evacuation. Other western countries also closed their missions and blew up personnel and their citizens.
For Americans, national security adviser Jake Sullivan blamed the Afghan military for the Taliban’s quick seizure of power, saying it lacked the will to fight However, the ease with which the Taliban took control goes beyond military prowess, the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor wrote.
“The speed of the final advance of the Taliban suggests less military dominance than an effective political insurgency coupled with an incohesive Afghan political system and a security force struggling with declining morale,” he said.
The Taliban offensive in the country surprised US officials. Just days before insurgents entered Kabul with little or no resistance, a US military assessment predicted it could take months for the capital to fall.
The defeat threatened to erase 20 years of Western efforts to remake Afghanistan, in which tens of thousands of Afghans died, as well as more than 3,500 American and allied soldiers. The initial invasion in 2001 drove the Taliban from power and dispersed al Qaeda, which had planned the 9/11 attacks while sheltering in Afghanistan.
Under the Taliban, who ruled according to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, women were largely confined to their homes, and suspected criminals faced amputation or public execution. Insurgents have tried to project greater restraint in recent years, but many Afghans remain skeptical.
So far, journalists have been able to work, although Taliban militants visited the private satellite channel Tolo TV in search of “government-issued weapons,” said the station’s owner, Saad Mohsini. Some militants donned Afghan military uniforms and began patrolling, arresting suspected thieves.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, separately described the interactions with the Taliban as “relatively positive.”
On Monday, Nillan, a 27-year-old Kabul resident who asked to be identified only by her first name for fear of retaliation, said she did not see a single woman on the streets during a 15-minute drive, “only men and boys “.
Nillan Said She feels like time has stopped. Everything has changed, ”she told the AP It feels like our life and our future are over.”