Afghans describe mayhem at Kabul airport as Taliban take power

Images of people falling to their deaths from a military cargo plane have shocked the world

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Thousands of Afghans continued to flock to Kabul's airport on Monday, as foreign diplomats and security forces left a city overrun by the Taliban.

Videos and images shown to The National by witnesses displayed scenes of chaos and suffering at a once well-run international airport. Eyewitnesses told The National that late on Monday afternoon Taliban forces gathered near one side of the airport and shot at least two people trying to scale a wall, also injuring several others in an attempt to disburse a large crowd.

There was no update on their condition but videos seen by The National showed blood stains on the ground in the area.

We spoke against everything the Taliban stands for. We know that they will not leave us alive
Kabul resident

One of the clips sent on Sunday night shows an abandoned immigration centre with no sign of any security.

Crowds of Afghan men, women and children can be seen in and around the Karzai International Airport and even on the tarmac, where planes remain parked, many of them grounded to make way for military cargo planes.

One of the Afghans present at the airport through the night described the scene.

“There is a lot of confusion and I would say there are tens of thousands of Afghans hoping to get on one of the planes,” they said.

“I was told that the Americans might take some of us who worked with them so I came to the airport. But they are not taking anyone.”

In other shocking videos shown to The National, hundreds of people chase a military plane taking off with foreign diplomats and staff on board.

Afghans desperate to flee Taliban cling to planes

Afghans desperate to flee Taliban cling to planes

“Many Afghans clung on to the wheels and engine, basically anything they could, with the hopes of getting away. These are people who have never travelled on a plane and don’t know that it is dangerous to do that,” the witness said.

Those clinging to the plane are seen falling off as the aircraft takes off. In another video, a man can be seen falling off a plane that has gained significant altitude.

Taliban on the streets

In the city, Taliban militants have been seen patrolling the streets in what were formerly Afghan security vehicles. Residents say there is a sense of dread and fear that the extremist group will pursue those who worked with civil society, political parties or the government, one of the reasons for the attempted mass departure.

“We are a group of four government officials. We fought for democracy, freedom of speech and women’s rights in this country,” said Mohammad Rahim, another Afghan who spent the night at the airport.

“We spoke against everything the Taliban stands for. We know that they will not leave us alive, so we had to try to escape.”

At the airport, Mr Rahim said, all security forces had been withdrawn.

“There weren’t any security checks. Before Kabul fell, there used to be six or seven security checks to get to the airport,” he said.

“I saw a woman who lost her baby in the crowd and she was frantic. Pregnant women were trying to get help. I saw a man in the plane who lost his wife and couldn’t locate her. The airport looked like a wild battleground.

“We got into a big line to get on a flight and after a couple of hours of waiting, we finally got into the plane.”

However, the plane Mr Rahim boarded was parked up and was not scheduled to fly.

“That plane could carry maybe 200 people, but had more than 500,” he said.

“Some high-ranking officials including one of the vice presidents were also on it. We had essentially invaded an empty plane, and were there for four hours. We knew there was no way the plane would take off anywhere. But we had hoped against hope that maybe we could get out.

“Unfortunately it didn’t work and we had to leave the airport and go undercover.”

Mr Rahim and his friends are now in hiding and are not sure how long they can keep running.

He said the Taliban were going door-to-door in search of Afghans who worked in media, civil society, politics and with foreigners.

This was confirmed by another source with The National. “Unfortunately, today, they came to me, but they did not enter the house. They asked a few questions and were taking notes,” the former government official said.

“They were told by my enemies where I live and they had come to find me. But luckily I wasn’t home. I am in hiding.

“But I don’t know for how long. They will catch up to me. I can only seek refuge in God now.”

Mr Rahim echoed the sense of despair.

“I never thought I would be on the run for my life and leave my own family behind. I am in shock and can’t even express what I witnessed. Kabul has turned into a ghost city,” he said.

Updated: August 16, 2021, 5:59 PM