At least five people die in Kabul airport chaos

DM Monitoring

KABUL: At least five people were killed as thousands packed into the Afghan capital’s airport on Monday, rushing the tarmac and pushing onto planes in desperate attempts to flee the country after the Taliban overthrew the Western-backed government. US soldiers fired warning shots as they struggled to manage the chaotic evacuation. Senior US military officials said the chaos at Kabul airport left seven people dead, including some who fell from a departing American military transport jet.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to publicly discuss ongoing operations. One witness told Reuters he had seen the bodies of five people being taken to a vehicle. Another witness said it was not clear whether the victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede.
Meanwhile, US soldiers killed two armed men at the airport, a Pentagon official said. “In the thousands of people who were there peacefully, two guys who had weapons brandished them menacingly. They were both killed,” the official said, insisting on anonymity. Some of the thousands of Afghans trying to flee clung to the side of a US military plane before takeoff, in a widely shared video that captured the sense of desperation as America’s 20-year war comes to a chaotic end.
Another video showed the Afghans falling as the plane gained altitude over Kabul. Tolo News quoted sources as saying that some people were killed and wounded by gunfire at the airport on Monday morning as crowds continue to grow.
Meanwhile, all commercial flights were suspended at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, according to a statement by the airport authority. BBC reported that US troops were taking control of Kabul’s international airport and the US military had secured the site. The publication added that US troops had taken over air traffic control to evacuate American and allied staff.
US troops, who are in charge of the airport, earlier fired in the air to scatter the crowd, a US official said. Officials were not immediately available to comment on the deaths. The Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing a stunning end to a two-decade campaign in which the US and its allies had tried to transform Afghanistan.
The country’s Western-trained security forces collapsed or fled in the face of an insurgent offensive that tore through the country in just over a week, ahead of the planned withdrawal of the last US troops at the end of the month.
Massouma Tajik, a 22-year-old data analyst, described scenes of panic at the airport, where she was hoping to board an evacuation flight. After waiting six hours, she heard shots from outside, where a crowd of men and women were trying to climb aboard a plane. She said US troops sprayed gas and fired into the air to disperse the crowds after people scaled the walls and swarmed onto the tarmac. Gunfire could be heard in the voice messages she sent to The Associated Press.
The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport to aid with the evacuation. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and nationals.
By morning, Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory saying the civilian side of the airport had been closed until further notice and that the military controlled the airspace. The speed of the Taliban offensive through the country appears to have stunned US officials. Just days before the insurgents entered Kabul with little if any resistance, a US military assessment predicted it could take months for the capital to fall.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesperson, tweeted that fighters had been instructed not to enter any home without permission and to protect life, property and honour.
Meanwhile, A US defence official said the head of Central Command had met face-to-face with senior Taliban leaders to urge their fighters not to interfere with the US military’s evacuation operations at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan.
The official said that in the meeting on Sunday in Doha, Qatar, Gen Frank McKenzie won Taliban agreement to establish a deconfliction mechanism, an arrangement by which evacuation operations at the airport can continue without interference by the new rulers of the country.