update(10:58am Eastern): The death toll rose later in the day to at least seven, including reports of two armed men shot by US troops:
- Heavy gunfire in the vicinity of Kabul International Airport
- AL JAZEERA REPORTS ‘HEAVY SHOOTING’ IN KABUL INTL AIRPORT
Also according to the AP, “The head of US Central Command met face-to-face with senior Taliban leaders to urge their fighters not to interfere with the U.S. military’s evacuation operations at the airport in Kabul, a defense official says.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — AP sources: Seven people dead at Kabul airport amid evacuation chaos.
— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) August 16, 2021
Meanwhile, evacuation chaos continues as more and more US troops arrive at Kabul’s international airport to “restore order” – or at least get remaining Americans out.
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On Monday, the press reported shocking scenes of thousands of “utterly desperate” Afghan civilians fleeing their homes and mobbing the Kabul international airport tarmac in the wake of the rapid Taliban takeover of Kabul.
According to WSJ and other English-language media outlets, at least three people have died Monday during the frenzied struggle to leave. A group of 60 nations has asked the Taliban to allow any refugees who desire to leave the country to do so without inflicting harm on them or their families.
American troops are now attempting to secure and provide order at Karzai International Airport as military airlifts of American personnel continue. Shots have been fired as American troops arrive to find the security situation spiraling out of control, potentially making safe airport operations – including flights in and out – next to impossible if it’s not brought under order.
Insane. Don’t have any other words.
The Kabul Airport.
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) August 16, 2021
Thousands of Afghans who haven’t received permission to emigrate are fleeing to the airport anyway, believing it may be their only chance for survival amid rumors that flights are now taking whoever can force their way aboard. As desperate Afghans rushed packed passenger planes, some soldiers fired warning shots as hundreds of Afghans who breached the perimeter and then rushed to board an idling C-17 transport aircraft, a Western military official said. At certain points, American troops fired lethal rounds into the air to try and force the crowds to disperse. Military personnel were forced to try and clear the runways with low-flying helicopters, from which they tossed smoke grenades and fired live ammo. The city fell to the Taliban on Sunday, after fighters massed outside the city, eventually the Taliban leadership took over the presidential palace.
“U.S. forces fired in the air at Kabul’s airport on Monday to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac, a U.S. official said,” according to Reuters.
“The firing was done to defuse the chaos,” the official added. Hundreds of Afghans reportedly rushed at idling C-17 US transport aircraft, resulting in US troops firing repeatedly into the air.
Rumors spread claiming the airline was allowing people to board even without a ticket.
— Jason Brodsky (@JasonMBrodsky) August 16, 2021
Per WSJ, the chaotic rush of people desperate to get out hindered evacuation efforts: “Hundreds of Afghan civilians were seen close to the runway and around parked planes Monday morning, with some hanging from boarding ramps as they scrambled to get into the aircraft, hindering evacuation efforts,” the report describes.
So, how much of Afghanistan is now in Taliban hands? Practically the entire country, according to the BBC.
Apache gunships were called in by US forces to help clear the runway, seen doing low strafing runs…
— Disclose.tv 🚨 (@disclosetv) August 16, 2021
In one particularly grisly scene, footage showed three men who had attempted to hold on to aircraft landing gears as the plane lifted off ended up plunging to their deaths.
کابل میں دو نوجوان جہاز کے پہیے پر لٹک کر افغانستان چھوڑنے کی کوشش میں گر کر ہلاک ہوگئے۔
— Urdu News (@UrduNewsCom) August 16, 2021
Witnesses reported seeing the “prone, bloodied bodies lying on the ground just outside the terminal building,” according to the WSJ.
Some have reported being “trapped” in the airport, also while the terminal and other buildings were being looted. There are now said to be thousands of US troops at the Kabul airport, with a total of 6K troops expected to arrive in the form of reinforcements being sent in from Kuwait
— Natalie Amiri (@NatalieAmiri) August 16, 2021
Additionally the WSJ described the following surreal scene in its report:
“Afghans with small children sat dazed next to European special-forces operators with their sniper rifles and high-tech helmets equipped with night vision and infrared tags. Outside, the engines of helicopters and transport planes provided a steady, almost lulling, hum. Once in a while, groups of evacuees—the staff of the Indian embassy, or Bulgarian security contractors—donned helmets and body armor and set off toward their plane.”
It is chaos at Kabul airport. Planes are taking off and landing and people are running across the runway. pic.twitter.com/kKrg667AQB
— Sowaibah Hanifie (@SowaibahH) August 16, 2021
The chaos is expected to worsen in the coming days as the Taliban cements its control of the capital city.
They are literally ON a plane pic.twitter.com/jwOrPrfhfv
— FinTwit 🚀 (@FinTwit__) August 16, 2021
Meanwhile, Afghans aren’t the only people being trapped at the airport: at least some foreigners have also told the press that they feel trapped. The Taliban claims it’s allowing a “safe exit” to any foreigners.
A Reuters Pentagon correspondent is reporting that “The United States military has temporarily halted all evacuation flights from Kabul to try and clear the airfield, which has filled up with people, US official says.” It’s unclear how long this halt in airport operations will last, but it clearly comes as things get increasingly desperate.
— Nicola Careem (@NicolaCareem) August 16, 2021
Back in Washington, President Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki is reportedly embarking on a week-long vacation between Aug. 15 and Aug. 22. Now that the war is over, why not?