Thousands of Afghans and foreign nationals have rushed to the tarmac at Kabul airport seeking escape from the country, amid the chaos that took charge and the Taliban came strolling into the city taking control.
With the Taliban in the presidential palace and the elected president having fled the country, access to Hamid Karzai airport, five kilometres from the centre of the capital, was possible only through Taliban checkpoints.
The US, UK, Germany, Canada and a host of other coalition nations are all seeking to evacuate their nationals from the country. The southern – civilian – side of the airport came under fire on Sunday, and on Monday morning, there were reports US troops had fired into the air to disperse surging crowds.
Foreign embassy officials warned their nationals and Afghan citizens it was not safe to travel to the airport, and only to go there if instructed. Embassy staff are being helicoptered to the military side of the airport, which has been secured by US soldiers.
Videos from the airport showed people pouring into the terminal building, and scenes of dozens being pulled into the back of a C-17A military aircraft on the tarmac.
Thousands of people – including parents carrying young children – are seen surging towards planes on the airfield. US Humvee’s are also on the ground at the airport. In one video a woman calls out “look at the state of the people of Afghanistan”.
As situations worsened in Afghanistan, video appeared to show thousands of people including men, women and children streaming towards grounded civilian planes on the tarmac, with hundreds trying to find a way onboard.
Gunfire to disperse the crowd had forced some passengers into shelters as they awaited flights out of the country.
Massouma Tajik, a 22-year-old data analyst, was among hundreds of Afghans waiting anxiously in the Kabul airport to board an evacuation flight. “I see people crying, they are not sure whether their flight will happen or not. Neither am I,” she said by phone, panic in her voice.
A Nato official confirmed that all commercial flights had been banned and only military aircrafts were allowed to operate
US military officials were overseeing air traffic control at the field, which was still being run by Afghan nationals. An additional 1,000 US troops flown into the country – bringing the number of newly deployed to 6,000 – were helping secure the airfield. On Monday morning the US announced it had secured the perimeter of the airport.
The reports were unf=confirmed–supported by video–that commercial planes had been overwhelmed with passengers and some people were taken off as planes were overweight and could not take off.
Throughout Sunday, Kabul was seized by a rising panic.
As helicopters ferried US nationals the five kilometres from the US embassy to the airport, smoke rose from near the American compound as staff destroyed sensitive documents, and the US flag was lowered and removed.
France, Germany and the Netherlands, all Nato members, have said they were pulling their diplomats out of their embassies.
Fearful that the Taliban could reimpose the brutal rule they enforced before 2001, Afghans sought ways out of the country, lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings.