KABUL, Afghanistan - Satellite images captured the chaotic, crowded scene at the Kabul airport as crowds of people attempted to flee Afghanistan after the war-torn country was swiftly retaken by the Taliban amid a drawback of U.S. troops.
Several people were reported to have died at the airport on Monday. There were conflicting reports about possible causes of the deaths. According to Reuters, one witness said it was not clear if the cause had been a stampede or gunfire.
Video also showed people surrounding and clinging to a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it taxied for takeoff. One video showed people holding on to the landing gear and other parts of the plane. Another video showed a plane in the air with something, or someone, appearing to fall from the aircraft.
U.S. troops resorted to firing warning shots and using helicopters to clear a path for transport aircraft. U.S. officials also urged civilians to stop coming to the airport. U.S. military officials later announced the closure of the airport to commercial flights, shuttering one of the last avenues of escape for ordinary Afghans.
President Joe Biden will address the nation on Monday about the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan.
The Taliban swept into Afghanistan’s capital Sunday after the government collapsed and the embattled president joined an exodus of his fellow citizens and foreigners, signaling the end of a costly two-decade U.S. campaign to remake the country. Heavily armed Taliban fighters fanned out across the capital, and several entered Kabul’s abandoned presidential palace. Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman and negotiator, told the Associated Press that the militants would hold talks in the coming days aimed at forming an "open, inclusive Islamic government."
But chaos continues to unfold at the airport, not only involving Afghans, but American diplomats.
On Saturday, A steady stream of people made its way first to ticket sale counters set up on the parking lot outside the terminal. They pushed their luggage, loaded carts with carpets, television sets and mementos, stuffed clothes inside purses to make their weight limit as they slowly inched forward. The lucky ones, those who managed to get a ticket for a flight out to anywhere, then waited more than three hours to make it inside the terminal, bidding tearful goodbyes to loved ones they were leaving behind.
"I packed whatever I could to start a new life away from this war," said Naweed Azimi, who flew to Istanbul with his wife and five children, fearful the Taliban would kill him for working with NATO as a subcontractor.
U.S. C-17 transport planes were due to bring thousands of fresh American troops to the airport, then fly out again with evacuating U.S. Embassy staffers. The Pentagon was now sending an additional 1,000 troops, bringing the total number to about 6,000, a U.S. defense official said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a deployment decision not yet announced by the Pentagon.
The Pentagon intends to have enough aircraft to fly out as many as 5,000 civilians a day, both Americans and the Afghan translators and others who worked with the U.S. during the war.
But tens of thousands of Afghans who have worked with U.S. and other NATO forces are seeking to flee with family members. And it was by no means clear how long Kabul’s deteriorating security would allow evacuations to continue.
Kabul International Airport — formally known as Hamid Karzai International Airport, after the country’s first president following the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 — sits just northeast of the city. Its single runway is long enough to accommodate military aircraft; the airfield as a whole can accommodate over 100 planes on the ground.
"I had never see such a rush at the airport before," said Farid Ahmad Younusi, an Afghan businessman who said he abandoned a contracting firm worth $1 million and fled Kandahar with the Taliban trying to find him. "Now Taliban have everything that I worked for over the past 20 years."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.