KABUL, Afghanistan (AP): Thousands of Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport Monday, some so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto an American military jet as it took off and plunged to death in chaos that killed at least seven people, U.S. officials said.
The crowds of people rushing the airport came as the Taliban enforced their rule over the wider capital after a lightning advance across the country that took just over a week to dethrone the country’s Western-backed government. While there were no major reports of abuses, many stayed home and remained fearful as the insurgents’ advance saw prisons emptied and armories looted.
The Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing an end to a two-decade campaign in which the U.S. and its allies had tried to transform Afghanistan. The country’s Western-trained security forces collapsed or fled, ahead of the planned withdrawal of the last American troops at the end of the month.
Residents raced to Kabul’s international airport, where the “civilian side” was closed until further notice, according to Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority. The U.S. military and other Western forces continued to organize evacuations.
Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of people running across the tarmac as U.S. troops fired warning shots in the air. One showed a crowd pushing and shoving its way up a staircase, trying to board a plane, with some people hanging off the railings.
In another video, hundreds of people could be seen running alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moved down a runway. Some clung to the side of the jet just before takeoff. Another video showed several falling through the air as the airplane rapidly gained altitude over the city.
Senior military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing operation, told The Associated Press that the chaos left seven dead, including several who fell from the flight.
The storming of the airport, seen from space by passing satellites, raised questions about how much longer aircraft would be able to safely take off and land.