Kabul, 16 August 2021 (dpa/MIA) – Desperation reigned at Kabul’s airport on Monday, a day after the Afghan capital was taken by Islamist Taliban militants, as those hoping to flee the country crowded in and sought to get on any flight that would take them.
According to witnesses and social media transmissions, hundreds of people have been at the airport since Sunday, sometimes jumping turnstiles and trying to force their way onto departing aeroplanes. Some of those seeking to depart weren’t even in possession of a passport.
There have also been reports of deaths at the airport and, earlier, of US forces firing warning shots as they try to organize the evacuation of US personnel from the country the US conquered in 2001. Additionally, there were reports of people falling from departing planes, perhaps after having tried to hide in wheel wells.
There were reports of four such cases on Monday, though they could not be verified.
Rumours circulated on Monday that anyone who made it the airport would be taken out, though there was no confirmation any such thing would happen. The German embassy warned on Twitter that coming to the airport unsummoned could lead to dangerous situations.
Local media reported that the airport has said that no more commercial flights are coming or going and urged people not to come to the aircraft.
Kabul’s collapse on Sunday signalled the end of a 20-year-long nation-building exercise led by the US with support of NATO allies.
The US kicked the Taliban out of Kabul in 2001, because the Taliban had provided shelter to the al-Qaeda operatives who planned and took part in hijacking the aeroplanes that were used to bomb the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington on September 11 of that year.
But, despite billions of dollars in investment and hundreds of thousands of soldiers, the US never managed to create more than a weak state. Afghan politicians rarely cooperated with one another and the armed forces were seen as weak.
Former US president Donald Trump’s administration agreed to withdraw in exchange for the Taliban making peace with the Afghan government and the current president, Joe Biden, stuck to the plan, but delayed the time table a few months.
However, as soon as foreign troops began leaving, Taliban troops began their push. Afghan forces gave up multiple key cities without a fight and Western forces are now trying to flee the city weeks earlier than planned.
Many Afghan media outlets were providing only limited service on Monday. Many were only showing repeats, instead of live programming. Music channels have stopped and channels are opting against programmes depicting women and anything else that has come under criticism from ultra-conservative circles in the past.
During their reign, the Taliban enforced a strict version of Islamic society, banning much entertainment, stripping women of most rights and demanding piety of the population.
Rage was also starting to build among those who feel let down by the collapse of Kabul.
Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who negotiated the original deal the Taliban, told Fox News that the Biden administration seemed to have failed in its plans. He called for US airpower to be brought in to crush the Taliban forces surrounding Kabul.
“We shouldn’t be begging them to spare the lives of Americans, we should be imposing costs on the Taliban until they allow us to execute our plan in Afghanistan.”
The current White House has been fighting with Pompeo on the topic for months, claiming that the original Trump-era deal left the US with few good options in Afghanistan, a charge Pompeo has denied.
Meanwhile, rage in Afghanistan was directed at Ashraf Ghani, the president who fled Kabul by helicopter on Sunday. People described him on social media as a “filthy animal” for his role in the capitulation, while others said it was the fault of his poor leadership that they were now forced to burn books and music instruments in the hopes the Taliban wouldn’t find them.
There were also calls for calm from abroad. China’s Foreign Ministry noted it would “respect the will of the people” and noted that a Taliban takeover would stop a war that has lasted for decades.
Meanwhile, evacuations continued. The Czech army reported landing a planeful of evacuees in Prague. The Philippines also reported the start of its evacuation programme, with an initial group of 32 people on their way home and another 19 ready to leave soon.
But the efforts to leave the country were also focusing attention on the fact that the situation could soon turn into a refugee crisis that could affect Europe and other countries. An EU videoconference on the matter was expected later on Monday after a group of five Mediterranean countries raised the alarm after a summer that has already seen a rise in refugee numbers.