Three stowaways are reported to have fallen to their deaths from one airborne plane and a further five people have been killed at Kabul airport as thousands of Afghans try desperately to get on flights out of the country amid increasingly chaotic scenes.
US troops fired shots in the air at Hamad Karzai airport to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac after they took over Afghanistan’s air traffic control on Monday morning. Witnesses said it was not clear whether the five victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede.
Footage published by Afghan outlet Aśvaka showed three stowaways falling to the deaths after clinging on to the wheels of a military plane as it took off from Kabul airport. Video posted later appeared to show residents collecting their bodies from a roof in Kabul.
Meanwhile panicked Afghans were also seen climbing up the outside of an airbridge and chasing a US military C-17 down the runway in a bid to get onboard planes out of the country. Video also showed hundreds of people running alongside – and in front of – a US Air Force plane preparing to take off.
All commercial services have been suspended, with only military flights leaving the country as the UK, US and other western countries repatriate their citizens. The Ministry of Defence confirmed the first British nationals had landed at RAF base Brize Norton after being evacuated from Kabul.
It comes as 60 countries issued a joint plea to the Taliban to allow civilians to flee ahead of EU foreign ministers hold crisis talks via videolink on Tuesday.
The Taliban swept into the capital on Sunday after the Western-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing a stunning end to a two-decade campaign in which the US and its allies had tried to transform the country.
The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians.
Almost all major checkpoints in Kabul were under Taliban control by Monday morning and Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory saying the ‘civilian side’ of the airport had been ‘closed until further notice’ and that the military controlled the airspace. Early Monday morning, flight-tracking data showed no immediate commercial flights over the country.
Taliban fighters were seen inside the Afghan parliament on Monday after officials promised civilians would not be harmed and announced everyone would be allowed to return home from Kabul airport if they decided to stay in the country.
The Taliban previously said westerners would be allowed to leave the country but that Afghans would be barred from departing. Iranian President Ebraham Raisi has hailed the US ‘defeat’ in Afghanistan as a chance for lasting peace.
It comes as:
- Taliban fighters were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul as thousands of hopeful Afghans gathered on the runway at Hamid Karzai airport trying desperately to escape from Afghanistan;
- The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan put plans to leave the country on hold – and remained at Kabul airport to help process the applications of those seeking to leave;
- Defence Minister Ben Wallace choked up today as he vowed to fly hundreds of desperate Afghans out of the country within the next 36 hours – but insisted sending UK troops back in is not ‘on the cards’;
- The EU said member states’ foreign ministers would hold crisis talks via video link on Tuesday;
- Former President Hamid Karzai urged the Taliban to spare Kabul and told residents to stay in their homes;
- Russian officials said they were in touch with the Taliban in Afghanistan via its Embassy in Kabul;
- The US ambassador and embassy staff fled Afghanistan after Taliban forces stormed Kabul in scenes likened to the 1975 evacuation of its mission in Saigon;
- PM Boris Johnson said said the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan had ‘accelerated’ the crisis;
- British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was forced to return to the UK from his holiday abroad;
- Tory MPs called fallout from Anglo-US withdrawal ‘Britain’s worst foreign policy disaster since Suez’;
- MPs are expected to to vent their anger and frustration when they return to Westminster on Wednesday for an emergency recall of Parliament to discuss the crisis;
- President Biden defended the withdrawal of US troops and blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for a deal that left the warlords ‘in the strongest position militarily since 2001’;
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted the scene in Afghanistan is not comparable to the fall of Saigon as he diverted blame for the Taliban takeover on Republicans.