Afghanistan: At least 20 killed near Kabul airport during evacuation effort, says Nato official

Large crowds gather near Hamid Karzai International Airport in an attempt to flee Islamist group

Tom Batchelor
Sunday 22 August 2021 14:05
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Related video: Chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as thousands try to flee Afghanistan

At least 20 people have died in the last week near Kabul airport during attempts to flee Afghanistan by plane after Taliban insurgents took over the capital, a Nato official has said.

Reports of stampedes and crushing injuries, triggered in part by Taliban fighters firing into the air to control the crowds, have highlighted the chaotic and at times deadly situation in Kabul as thousands seek sanctuary before the airlift operation comes to an end.

The deteriorating situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport was confirmed earlier on Sunday by the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), which said seven people had been killed in the area as large crowds gathered in an attempt to flee the Taliban takeover.

Western nations are hurriedly trying to rescue thousands of people after the Islamist group gained control of Afghanistan in little more than a week.

The unnamed Nato source, who was speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said: “The crisis outside the Kabul airport is unfortunate. Our focus is to evacuate all foreigners as soon as we can.”

Crowds have grown at the airport every day over the past week, hindering operations as the United States and other nations attempt to evacuate thousands of their diplomats and civilians as well as numerous Afghans.

“Our forces are maintaining strict distance from outer areas of the Kabul airport to prevent any clashes with the Taliban,” the Nato official added.

The UK MoD said in a statement: “Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible.

“Our sincere thoughts are with the families of the seven Afghan civilians who have sadly died in crowds in Kabul.”

It comes as the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said “no nation will be able to get everyone out” of the country, with US president Joe Biden’s 31 August target date making the rescue mission even more time-pressured.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the Cabinet minister said: “If the US timetable remains, we have no time to lose to get the majority of the people waiting out.

“Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer, and they will have our complete support if they do.”

Mr Wallace said there were “too many people in the airport“ on Saturday, forcing the US side of the operation to suspend access.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said Labour MPs had been hearing of people being “shot at, beaten and raped” while they wait to be called forward at the airport, while the Baron Hotel in the city, where many British nationals are being told to go for processing, is being blockaded by the Taliban.

The MoD’s Operation Pitting evacuation mission is being supported by 1,000 British troops with nearly 4,000 people repatriated from Afghanistan since 13 August.

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