Thousands of Afghans gathered on the tarmac at Kabul International Airport in the hours after the Taliban captured the capital.
The chaotic scenes on Monday at Hamid Karzai International Airport, recorded by news crews and cell phones, convey a terror and desperate escape from the country now overrun by Taliban fighters in the run-up to the full withdrawal of US forces.
A video shared on Twitter appears to show large crowds, including children, moving towards passenger planes on the tarmac.
“Nobody can really walk,” Kamal Alam, a non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council and senior advisor to the Massoud Foundation, told CNBC in a telephone interview. Alam was stuck in Afghanistan and his flight out of the country was canceled. “If you don’t have a visa or passport, which the majority of Afghans don’t, don’t go.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, allegedly to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Sunday evening when the Taliban entered the presidential palace and declared the war “over”. Ghani said he fled to prevent “a flood of bloodshed”.
“The Taliban won the judgment of their swords and weapons and are now responsible for the honor, property and self-preservation of their compatriots,” said Ghani.
The rapid departure of high-ranking Afghan officials – along with substantial amounts of cash – in recent days has initially sparked the onslaught and tide of anger against the Afghan government, Alam said. He was at Hamid Karzai International Airport a few days ago.
“All VIPs were allowed to fly out first, all their cash was transported first … whether on commercial airlines or private jets from [an] unnamed golf country, “he said without specifying the country due to the sensitivity of the subject.
“So people saw that, there was a lot of resentment and anger from airport security, and that’s where the rot really started. That’s when people started saying that this government and this president are not worth defending, let’s get out of here. “
Another video posted on social media shows people struggling to get on a plane.
Panic spreads as an expanded force of around 6,000 U.S. soldiers return to the country to evacuate Western diplomats. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the forces were tasked with the “very closely focused mission” of evacuating embassy personnel in Kabul. Late on Sunday, the US embassy was practically relocated to the airport.
“We can confirm that the safe evacuation of all embassy staff is now complete,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Monday. “All embassy staff are on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport, the vicinity of which is secured by the US military.”
Before Sunday, Kabul was the last major city spared from being taken over by the militants.
A Taliban spokesman said the fighters wanted to negotiate a “peaceful surrender” of the city.
Since President Joe Biden’s decision in April to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan before September 11, the Taliban have made breathtaking strides on the battlefield, now controlling the entire nation of 38 million people.
The rapid disintegration of the Afghan security forces and government in the country has shocked the world, leading many to wonder how it came to collapse so quickly after two decades of American nation-building and training efforts.
Afghans (L) crowd at the airport as US soldiers stand guard in Kabul on August 16, 2021.
SHAKIB RAHMANI | AFP | Getty Images