Afghanistan: ‘At least five dead’, eyewitnesses say, amid Kabul airport chaos

Deaths come as thousands try to flee Taliban rule

Rory Sullivan
Monday 16 August 2021 09:47
Crowds rush to Kabul Airport as desperate Afghan citizens attempt to flee city

At least five people died at Kabul airport as hundreds of people tried to forcibly board evacuation flights, witnesses have said.

One eyewitness told Reuters on Monday that they had seen five bodies being carried away, while another said it was unclear how the victims had died.

Repeated gunshots can be heard in some videos taken at the airport, while others show crowds of people squeezing up ramps, desperate to get a seat on overcrowded planes.

This comes after the Taliban swept into Afghanistan’s capital on Sunday, with president Ashraf Ghani fleeing to an undisclosed location, thought to be Tajikistan.

In the ensuing chaos, thousands of Afghans headed to the airport in the hope of catching a flight abroad. US troops, who control the airport, later fired warning shots to break up the crowds, a US official confirmed.

American diplomats were airlifted from the US embassy to the airport by helicopter, ahead of their withdrawal from the country.

Australia, Spain and Italy also sent military aircraft to evacuate their embassy staff and other citizens. “We have transported all the embassy staff as well as protection crews to the airport,” Spanish interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said.

While the evacuation of diplomats continues, the “civilian side” of the airport is now “closed until further notice”, Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement on Monday.

Rakhshanda Jilali, a human rights activist who is trying to flee to Pakistan, highlighted the contrast between the treatment of locals and diplomats. “This is our airport but we are seeing diplomats being evacuated while we wait in complete uncertainty.”

Speaking of the scenes at Kabul airport, the BBC’s South Asia bureau chief Nicola Careem said: “This is, perhaps, one of the saddest images I’ve seen from Afghanistan. A people who are desperate and abandoned. No aid agencies, no UN, no government. Nothing.”

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood compared the chaotic scenes to "Saigon 2.0", referencing evacuations as the North Vietnamese army captured the southern capital and ended the Vietnam War.

Mr Ellwood, a former British Army captain and current chairman of the Defence Select Committee, tweeted: "Chaotic exodus from Kabul airport. Apaches used to clear the runway.

"If this is not Saigon 2.0 I don't know what is. Is this how we thought we'd depart Afghanistan? I repeat my call for a UK inquiry."

In a lightning-quick offensive, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan after the US started to withdraw its forces, with the insurgents seizing Kabul a little more than a week after capturing their first provincial capital.

US president Joe Biden has been strongly criticised for the rushed American exit from Afghanistan, after he decided to end his country’s 20-year presence there.

Additional reporting by agencies

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