Then and now: what Kabul Airport looks like one year after Taliban's Afghan takeover

A series of images shows chaos at the capital as civilians tried to flee the Taliban and what each scene looks like now

Kabul Airport at the time of the Taliban retaking the city alongside the same scene as it looks now. AFP
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A year after the Taliban swept across Afghanistan, Kabul Airport remains a symbol of the struggle to escape the extremist group.

As the US withdrew from Afghanistan after a military presence of almost 20 years, more than 124,000 US citizens and Afghans were flown to safety in 15 days.

The Biden administration said the pullout and extraction operation — one of the largest airlifts yet — was an “extraordinary success”.

But distressing images and video showing desperate people trying to escape are not forgotten. Today, the airport looks different, but a trickle of people still leave, hoping one day to return to a more free Afghanistan.

These photographs, taken almost a year apart, show how Kabul Airport has changed.

Afghans outside Kabul airport

As the Taliban arrived in Kabul and it became clear they would control the entire country, thousands flocked to the airport, hoping for a place on one of the evacuation flights

Many feared Taliban retribution for working with US, other foreign forces, or NGOs. Others wanted a life with more freedom than the extremists would offer.

Crowds appeared outside entrances to the airport, and some people passed young children and babies across to the US troops at the gates.

Now, those who wish to leave are on waiting lists for refugee status or visas to nations such as Canada, the UK or the US. The frantic scenes at the airport have been left behind.

Airside at Kabul airport

Today, the departure and arrival halls are quieter, and passengers leave Afghanistan calmly through boarding gates. The sense of desperation has dissipated as those who can afford to save up for flights leave, and those who cannot attempt to build a new life — this includes airport staff.

The airport was badly damaged in the chaos of the Taliban takeover. Walls were broken down as thousands tried to board emergency flights and a bombing by extremist group ISIS-K on August 26 killed 170 Afghans and 13 US service personnel.

Baggage reclaim

Even those who got inside they airport were not guaranteed a seat on departing flights. Many faced agonising waits to try to bring family in to join them, taking up residence in the baggage reclaim areas, duty free or anywhere there was space to wait.

Today, airport functions are back to normal.

Kabul Airport, as well as Kandahar and Herat airports, are managed by the General Aviation Airport Coalition, a UAE-based consortium, after a deal was signed with the Taliban in May. It ran the airports under the previous government.

Air traffic control is the responsibility of Afghans trained by experts from Uzbekistan and Qatar.

A Kam Air flight prepares to board

Afghanistan's largest private airline, Kam Air, has continued to operate since the Taliban takeover. On August 16, its planes, like other airlines and military aircraft, were mobbed by people attempting to escape the Taliban.

As the last flights loaded with passengers, hundreds of people clung to the outside of aircraft. People were killed by falls from the undercarriage and wings of jets as they took off.

The first inward commercial flight since the Taliban took over on August 15 landed in Kabul on September 13, but today the airport is still not operating at full capacity.

On the tarmac at Kabul Airport

Those who could not get permission to board flights took to the tarmac, hoping to be allowed a place on a plane.

Several people were crushed to death while trying to get there, as the US and its allies bundled their citizens and Afghan nationals who aided the ousted government into seats and holds.

The US complete its withdrawal on August 30, leaving behind between 100 and 200 Americans and thousands more Afghans who were eligible for assistance and visas from the western nations they assisted in the 20 years after the US invasion.

A year of Taliban rule in Afghanistan - in pictures

Updated: August 12, 2022, 5:15 AM