Afghans cling to moving US Air Force jet in desperate bid to flee

Described as ‘defining images’ of Western intervention, extraordinary scenes from the runway in Kabul send shockwaves across the world.

Crowds have converged on Kabul airport as people seek to flee Afghanistan amid the Taliban's resurgence in the country [Reuters]
Crowds have converged on Kabul airport as people seek to flee Afghanistan amid the Taliban's resurgence in the country [Reuters]

Extraordinary footage of Afghans clinging on to a United States Air Force plane in a desperate bid to flee the country have been described as the “defining images” of the decades-long military intervention by Western powers.

Videos shared widely on social media on Monday showed hundreds of people running alongside a US military jet as it prepared to depart Kabul airport.

One video showed several people climbing onto the plane as it progressed down the airport’s runway, some of whom appeared to be hanging off its moving front wheel.

Another horrifying clip appeared to show at least two people falling from the sky after the plane has taken off.

Hours earlier, five people were killed as chaos broke out in the terminals of Hamid Karzai International Airport and on the tarmac after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan’s capital.

In other footage, US soldiers managing the airport appeared to fire warning shots in the air as crowds surged.

Dozens of others could be seen in videos attempting to scale a staircase and board a plane, with some people hanging off the railings.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Kabul, said the “chaotic and desperate scenes” began to unfold after it became clear the Afghan government had collapsed and the Taliban was assuming control of Kabul.

“That caused a surge of people moving toward the airport,” he said. “It seemed as though airport security, airline and airport staff simply melted away, and it really was a free-for-all.”

‘Shocking, unreal scenes’

The harrowing footage from the runway was widely described on social media as the “defining image” of the US-led incursion into Afghanistan.

The intervention, which began in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, is currently being wound down by Washington and allied forces, with the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Some lamented the “unimaginable … level of desperation it must have taken to hang onto an airplane”, and described the unravelling security situation as “unbelievable”.

For others, the images were reminiscent of the chaos that enveloped the US’s escape from Vietnam at the end of the country’s war in 1975, though US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has rejected the comparison.

In recent days, the US and several of Washington’s allies, including the United Kingdom, France and Germany, have been trying to arrange evacuation flights out of Kabul in line with the end of their combat operations in Afghanistan.

As authorities attempted to clear the throngs of people who had converged on its airfield, the US later on Monday halted all evacuation flights from Kabul, a defence official told Reuters news agency.

The official did not say how long the pause on evacuation flights would last.

Airlines are meanwhile avoiding flights over Afghanistan after the local aviation authority urged them to reroute.

British Airways, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air France and Virgin Atlantic announced they were no longer flying over the country after the Taliban took over Kabul.

The Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority said in a “notice to airmen” that “Kabul airspace has been released to the military”.

It advised airlines to reroute as “any transit through Kabul airspace will be uncontrolled”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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