7 killed as desperate Afghans cling to plane

Published August 17, 2021
Hundreds of people run alongside a US Air Force C-17 transport plane, some climbing on the plane, as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul on August 16. — AP
Hundreds of people run alongside a US Air Force C-17 transport plane, some climbing on the plane, as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul on August 16. — AP

KABUL: Thousands of Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport on Monday, some so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto an American military jet as it took off and plunged to death in chaos that killed seven people.

The crowds rushing to the airport came as the Taliban enforced their rule over the capital after a lightning advance across the country that took just over a week to dethrone the country’s Western-backed government. While there were no major reports of abuses, many stayed at home and remained fearful as the advance saw prisons emptied and armouries looted.

Residents raced to Kabul’s international airport, where the civilian side was closed until further notice. The US military and other Western forces continued to organise evacuations.

Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of people running across the tarmac as US troops fired warning shots in the air. One showed a crowd pushing and shoving its way up a staircase, trying to board a plane, with some people hanging off the railings.

In another video, hundreds of people could be seen running alongside a US Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moved down a runway. Some clung to the side of the jet just before takeoff. Another video showed several falling through the air as the aeroplane rapidly gained altitude over the city.

Senior military officials said the chaos left seven dead, including several who fell from the flight.

The storming of the airport, seen from space by passing satellites, raised questions about how much longer aircraft would be able to safely take off and land.

Shafi Arifi, who had a ticket to travel to Uzbekistan on Sunday, was unable to board his plane because it was packed with people who had raced across the tarmac and climbed aboard, with no police or airport staff in sight.

“There was no room for us to stand,” said the 24-year-old. "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."

After a woman fainted and was carried off the plane, Arifi gave up and went back home.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2021

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