Chaos continued at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday morning, with American military officials saying that all commercial flights out of the airport have been halted to clear the airport’s sole runway of civilians. The halt follows scenes of Afghan civilians desperate to flee the country swarming the runway as a US Air Force C-17 was taking off, the day after Taliban fighters entered the Afghan capital and the government of President Ashraf Ghani capitulated.
At least five people are reported dead after shots were fired at the airport, with conflicting reports on whether the deaths were due to a stampede or due to coalition troops firing into the crowd. Additionally, at least two people were reported to have died after falling out of the landing gear wells of a C-17 departing the airport as it gained altitude. It is not currently clear whether the C-17 involved in both incidents are the same aircraft.
An American official that spoke with Reuters said that US forces had fired into the air in an attempt to keep the “out of control” crowd from storming the runway, insisting that “the firing was only done to defuse the chaos.” Approximately 6,000 US troops are to be deployed at the airport to secure it for evacuation, with an additional 3,000 taken from units previously pre-positioned as a contingency plan.
The chaotic scenes follow reports that civilian citizens from multiple coalition countries remain trapped in Kabul or in other parts of the country, with their home countries’ evacuation efforts either insufficient or too late to evacuate them ahead of advancing Taliban fighters. While the State Department insists that the airport perimeter remains secure, Taliban checkpoints have been spotted on roads leading to the airport, and it similarly remains unclear for how long the airport can be defended, or for how long can Taliban promises be trusted.
Conspicuously missing is President Joe Biden, who said last week that he had no regrets over the decision to withdraw. The President is currently at Camp David, although a senior administration official that spoke with CNN says that he is expected to address the nation over the next few days regarding the withdrawal.
Not missing, but clearly outpaced by events, were many governments that had planned crisis meetings for this week to address evacuations of their citizens from Afghanistan. The State Department has since issued a joint statement by 64 countries, calling on “all parties” to “respect and facilitate” a “safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country”, concluding that “the Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity. We in the international community stand ready to assist them”. The crowds at the airport would beg to differ.