Kabul airport mobbed; some Afghans cling to US military plane as it takes off

Crowds of people were seen attempting to climb up an US Air Force plane at Kabul airport, on Aug 16, 2021.
Crowds of people were seen attempting to climb up an US Air Force plane at Kabul airport, on Aug 16, 2021.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM TWITTER
Crowds of people were seen attempting to climb up an US Air Force plane at Kabul airport, on Aug 16, 2021.
Crowds of people were seen attempting to climb up an US Air Force plane at Kabul airport, on Aug 16, 2021.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM TWITTER
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport, on Aug 16, 2021.
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport, on Aug 16, 2021.PHOTO: AFP
Afghan people climb up on a plane and sit by the door as they wait at Kabul airport, on Aug 16, 2021.
Afghan people climb up on a plane and sit by the door as they wait at Kabul airport, on Aug 16, 2021.PHOTO: AFP
The bedlam at the airport came just hours after Taleban leaders ordered their fighters into Kabul to maintain order.
The bedlam at the airport came just hours after Taleban leaders ordered their fighters into Kabul to maintain order.PHOTO: AFP
Afghans crowd at the airport as they wait to leave from Kabul, on Aug 16, 2021.
Afghans crowd at the airport as they wait to leave from Kabul, on Aug 16, 2021.PHOTO: AFP
A handout satellite image shows crowds rushing toward parked airplanes on the tarmac of Kabul International Airport, on Aug 16, 2021.
A handout satellite image shows crowds rushing toward parked airplanes on the tarmac of Kabul International Airport, on Aug 16, 2021.PHOTO: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES
Afghan passengers sit as they wait to leave Kabul International Airport, on Aug 16, 2021.
Afghan passengers sit as they wait to leave Kabul International Airport, on Aug 16, 2021.PHOTO: AFP
Afghans crowd at the airport as US soldiers stand guard in Kabul on Aug 16, 2021.
Afghans crowd at the airport as US soldiers stand guard in Kabul on Aug 16, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (AFP) - United States troops fired shots into the air and all commercial flights were cancelled at Kabul airport on Monday (Aug 16) as thousands of Afghans crowded onto the tarmac in the hope of catching any flight out after the weekend Taleban takeover.

Dramatic footage posted on social media showed a scene of chaos on the runway, with civilians frantically clambering up an already overcrowded and buckling set of air-stairs.

It was a desperate bid to board a parked passenger plane and escape the city a day after the government's collapse.

As a crowd of hundreds watched on, those who successfully climbed the stairs helped others up, while some hung from the stair railings by their hands.

Panicked families trying to flee the capital carried overpacked luggage, with frightened children in tow.

Some Afghans were clinging to a US military transport plane as it taxied on the runway, according to footage posted by a media company.

Five people were killed in the chaos.

The airport situation caused such a commotion that US troops fired into the air to restore order and all commercial flights were cancelled.

"I feel very scared here. They are firing lots of shots into the air," the witness said, asking not to be named in case it jeopardised his chances of leaving.

The US State Department said American troops had secured the perimeter of the airport as they evacuate embassy employees and thousands of Afghans who worked for Washington's interests since they toppled the Taleban in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks.


Evacuees crowd the interior of a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul on Aug 15, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The US embassy in Kabul tweeted to tell American nationals and Afghans to "not travel to the airport".

But thousand more Afghans - even some with no links to the US-led coalition - showed up in the hope of getting out, even without tickets or visas for foreign destinations.

The bedlam at the airport came just hours after Taleban leaders ordered their fighters into Kabul to maintain order as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

"We are afraid to live in this city and we are trying to flee Kabul," said a 25-year old man who also asked to be identified only as Ahmed.

Many of the arrivals were fuelled by rumours, or fake news spread on social media.

"I read on Facebook that Canada is accepting asylum from Afghanistan," said Ahmed.

"Since I served in the army... there is danger. The Taleban would definitely target me."


Afghan people rush towards the Kabul airport to leave the capital city, on Aug 16, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

The US said it had evacuated its entire embassy staff to the airport, but they were being kept separate from those without permission to travel.

Other videos posted on social media also showed desperate scenes overnight of people fighting to cram into the back of a cargo plane.

Outside of the airport, an uneasy calm held over Kabul as armed Taleban insurgents patrolled the streets and set up checkpoints.

In a message posted to social media, Taleban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar called on his fighters to remain disciplined after taking control of the city.

"Now it's time to test and prove, now we have to show that we can serve our nation and ensure security and comfort of life," he said.


Taleban militants stand guard outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport as people walk to the airport to flee the country in Kabul, on Aug 16, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The scenes at the airport were reminiscent of the chaos that enveloped Washington's earlier bungled escape from Vietnam in 1975, even as Washington swatted away the comparison.

"This is not Saigon," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a broadcaster on Sunday.