by H. Haverstock, The Chicago Times

August 16, 2021

KABUL — Thousands of Afghans flocked to Kabul’s main airport on Monday, some so desperate to flee the savage Taliban that they clung to a military jet as it took off and fell to their deaths.

At least seven refugees were killed in the chaos, according to US officials.

The crowds gathered as the Taliban asserted control over the 5 million-person capital following a lightning advance across the country that took just over a week to oust the country’s Western-backed government. There were no major reports of abuses or fighting, but many residents remained at home and were fearful after the insurgents took over and looted prisons and armories.  However, in other parts of the county there have been reports of the Taliban starting the process of summary execution  of opposition and the systematic physical, psychological, and sexual abuse of women.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that thousands of people had been injured in the fighting across Afghanistan.  Security forces and politicians surrendered their provinces and bases without a fight, most likely believing that the two-decade Western experiment to remake Afghanistan would fail in the face of a resurgent Taliban. 

“The world is watching events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep concern about what lies ahead,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Afghans swarmed the international airport’s tarmac as the US military and others continued evacuation flights.  Some climbed into taxiway-parked planes, while others dangled precariously from a jet bridge.

US troops took up positions to protect the active runway, but the crowd rushed past them and their armored vehicles.  The sound of gunshots could be heard.  A helicopter did low runs in front of a US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III as it attempted to take off, attempting to drive people off the runway.  A group of Afghans was seen hanging onto the plane just before takeoff, and several others were seen falling through the air as the plane quickly gained altitude over the city. 

According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, US forces killed two people in the melee who were carrying weapons.  He stated that 1,000 additional US troops would be deployed to secure the airfield and supplement the 2,500 already present.

All flights at the airport, military and civilian, were halted until Afghan civilians were cleared from the runway, according to Kirby.  Hundreds of people remained trapped late Monday night, witnesses said, between American forces attempting to push them out of the airport and Taliban forces attempting to keep them in.

The Biden administration were taken aback by the Taliban offensive.  A US military assessment issued just days before the insurgents entered Kabul with little to no resistance predicted that the capital would fall within months.

The defeat threatened to undo 20 years of Western efforts to remake Afghanistan, which had resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghans as well as more than 3,500 US and allied troops.  The initial invasion in 2001 deposed the Taliban and dispersed al-Qaida, which had planned the 9/11 attacks while hiding in Afghanistan.

Women were largely confined to their homes under the Taliban, who ruled in accordance with a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, and suspected criminals faced amputation or public execution.

In recent years, the insurgents have attempted to project a more moderate image, but many Afghans remain skeptical.  Taliban have been know to stone women to death for the slightest infraction.

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