Scenes of palpable horror played out in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday as thousands of people ran onto the tarmac in a frenzied rush to try to make it onto airplanes that were leaving the war-torn country for the last time.
Some were so desperate to escape the clutches of the Taliban, which has now taken over the entire city, that they somehow crammed into the wheel wells of a US military jet as it took off, later plunging to their deaths.
Three people were seen falling from the jet as it flew over buildings in the Afghan capital; their bodies landed on the flat roofs of the buildings.
At least seven people died in the Monday morning chaos, according to U.S. officials, as America’s longest war ended in another scene of chaos reminiscent of Saigon in 1974, with locals clinging to airport structures to try to force their way onto the last aircraft leaving the country.
Biden said “No,” Taliban not about to take over country in July
The Taliban has made incredible inroads in the country over the past week while the American forces made plans to evacuate their embassy and move it to the airport.
As recently as July 8, US President Joe Biden stated “No” in response to a reporter’s question asking if the Taliban was about to take over the country. He is set to address the press and the American people at 3:45 PM on Monday afternoon after returning from vacation at Camp David.
In his remarks in early July, Biden stated “Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31st. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart.”
“As I said in April, the United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States. We achieved those objectives. That’s why we went.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. And it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.”
Perhaps many of the desperate citizens of Afghanistan would have wanted to leave even if the Taliban were not in control of the city and the US pullout had taken place in an orderly way, as planned; as it is, the scene on Monday was difficult to watch, the world horrified at what was unfolding in front of them.
Nightmares of previous Taliban rule coming to life again
The Taliban, despite its pleas that it had no plans for bloodshed, is beginning to enforce its rule over the capital of 5 million people once again.
In all, it took less than one week for its blitzkrieg-like campaign to succeed; already, women are in danger of mass enforced “marriage” — amounting to sexual slavery — to Taliban militants. Many residents stayed behind locked doors and remained fearful after the insurgents’ advance included the emptying of prisons and the looting of armories.
The International Committee of the Red Cross stated that thousands of people have been wounded in fighting in the last several days. However, in some regions, security forces and politicians handed over their military bases and entire provinces without a fight, apparently believing that the twenty-year-long experiment to remake Afghanistan into a democratic state has not worked.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated on Monday “The world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead.”
Chaos, gunshots on tarmac in desperate effort to clear path in front of moving jet
While throngs of young men swarmed the tarmac, climbing jet bridges in a futile attempt to get onto departing US aircraft, US troops took positions to gauard the runway. Overwhelmed, the hordes of men ran past them in one last desperate attempt to get away from the country.
Gunfire was heard as soldiers apparently confronted armed men on the tarmac. A helicopter made ground-hugging runs in front of a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III as it attempted to take off, to try to force people away from its path.
Videos shot by bystanders and the few remaining press at the airport showed heartbreaking scenes of young Afghans hanging onto the plane just before takeoff and several later losing their grip and falling through the air as the airplane nosed up and gained altitude over the city.
Senior American military officials, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing operation, told interviewers that the chaos left seven dead, including the several who fell from the Globemaster.
All flights now grounded in Kabul
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said U.S. forces killed two people he stated were carrying weapons in the melee at the airport. He said 1,000 additional American troops would be deployed to secure the airfield in an effort to back up the 2,500 who are already there right now.
All further flights at the airport — both military and civilian — will be ceased until the Afghan civilians can be cleared from the runway, Kirby added.
Shafi Arifi, an Afghan who had a ticket to travel to Uzbekistan on Sunday, was unable to get onto his flight yesterday because it was packed with people who had raced across the tarmac and forced their way aboard; at the time, there were no police or airport staff in sight, he stated.
“There was no room for us to stand,” the 24-year-old said, adding“Children were crying, women were shouting, young and old men were so angry and upset, no one could hear each other. There was no oxygen to breathe.”
Arifi gave up on his trip to Uzbekistan and returned home after a woman fainted from the upset and had to be carried off the plane.
“I’m lost and I don’t know what to do”
Meanwhile, land border crossings are all now controlled by the Taliban; Afghans like Rakhmatula Kuyash, left the country and were awaiting family members to follow them are now nearly without hope.
“I’m lost and I don’t know what to do,” said Kuyash, who crossed into Uzbekistan on Sunday after leaving his children and other relatives in Afghanistan. “I left everything behind.”
Uzbekistan air defenses also shot down an Afghanistan military aircraft which tried to enter the country’s airspace without asking permission. The two pilots of the plane were reportedly injured; they are now in custody.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, who had earlier left the country, is now facing Russian allegations that he fled the capital with four vehicles and a helicopter full of cash. At press time Ghani’s whereabouts are unknown.
The U.S. Embassy has now been successfully evacuated and the American flag lowered and taken off the premises by soldiers. Diplomats have relocated to the airport to help with the evacuation. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and were flying out their staff and other citizens.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan blamed the Afghan military for the Taliban’s lighting-fast takeover in interviews with U.S. television interviewers, saying it lacked the will to fight.
The Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor wrote that the ease with which the Taliban gained traction in Afghanistan indeed goes beyond military ability.
“Incohesive Afghan political system”
“The speed of the Taliban’s final advance suggests less military dominance than effective political insurgency coupled with an incohesive Afghan political system and a security force struggling with flagging morale,” it stated.
The speed of the Taliban offensive slicing through the country stunned American and other officials, even hose who were aware that swaths of the Afghan populace have no will to fight for democratic ideals. True to the President’s statement of early July, a U.S. military assessment predicted it could take months for the capital to fall to an insurgency just days before the militants entered Kabul.
The return of the Taliban threatens to erase 20 years of Western efforts to rebuild the Afghanistan that had existed in the years prior to the Soviet invasion in 1980.
In the decades before that seminal event, which destabilized the country to its core, prompting the formation of the Taliban (or “students”) in an uprising against the Russians, Afghanistan enjoyed decades of normal economic and social development.
After the 9/11 attack, which was planned on Afghan soil after the Taliban routed the Russians, the US invaded in an effort to rid the country of its radical islamic militants.
As a result, tens of thousands of Afghans and more than 3,500 Americans and allied troops were killed. The initial 2001 drove the Taliban from its power base in the capital and scattered al-Qaida, which had planned the 9/11 attacks while being sheltered in the Afghanistan hinterlands.
Women confined to homes, streets empty
Under the years of the Taliban, which ruled in accordance with a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, women were largely confined to their homes and allowed outside only with a male relative.
Suspected criminals faced amputation or public execution; before the American invasion there were reports that there were mass executions in the soccer stadiums of the city. The Taliban has sought to project greater moderation in recent times, stating as recently as yesterday that they are not planning any violence, but many Afghans remain highly skeptical.
Thus far, journalists so far have been allowed to work, athough Taliban militants recently visited the private satellite channel Tolo TV in an attempt to find “government-issued weapons,” according to station owner Saad Mohsini in an interview with the Associated Press.
Some militants have been seen donning on Afghan military uniforms and going on patrols, arresting men who they claimed were suspected of robbery.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, recently described interactions with the Taliban as “relatively positive.”
On Monday, Nillan, a 27-year-old resident of Kabul who asked to be identified only by her first name for fear of reprisals, said she did not see a single woman out on the streets during a 15-minute drive through the capital — “only men and boys,” s he said, in an eerie hearkening back to pre-2001 years of Taliban control.
“It feels like time has stopped. Everything’s changed,” she told the AP, adding “It feels like our life and our future has ended.”
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