US President Joe Biden said Monday that he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan and that the government’s collapse was quicker than anticipated.
Speaking about the chaotic situation in Afghanistan, Biden said Monday (US time) that he faced a choice between an agreement to withdraw US forces or send thousands more U.S. troops back in for a “third decade” of war. Biden said he will not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Biden spoke after the planned withdrawal of American forces turned deadly at Kabul’s airport as thousands tried to flee following the Taliban’s swift takeover of the government.
Seven killed in Afghanistan's Kabul airport chaos as Taliban patrols capital
Warning: Distressing content
Thousands of Afghans rushed into Kabul’s main airport Monday, some so desperate to escape the Taliban that they held onto a military jet as it took off and plunged to their deaths. At least seven people died in the chaos, US officials said, as America’s longest war ended with its enemy the victor.
The crowds came while the Taliban enforced their rule over the capital of five million people after a lightning advance across the country that took just over a week to dethrone the country’s Western-backed government. There were no major reports of abuses or fighting, but many residents stayed home and remained fearful after the insurgents’ advance saw prisons emptied and armories looted.
Across the nation, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that thousands had been wounded in fighting. Elsewhere, security forces and politicians handed over their provinces and bases without a fight, likely believing the two-decade Western experiment to remake Afghanistan would not survival the resurgent Taliban. The last American troops had planned to withdraw at the end of the month.
“The world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead,” warned United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
As the US military and others continued evacuation flights, Afghans swarmed over the international airport’s tarmac. Some climbed into aircraft parked on the taxiway, while others dangled precariously off a jet bridge.
US troops took positions to guard the active runway, but the crowd stormed past them and their armoured vehicles. Gunshots rang out. As one US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III tried to take off, a helicopter did low runs in front of it to try to drive people off the runway.
Videos showed a group of Afghans hanging onto the plane just before takeoff and several falling through the air as the airplane rapidly gained altitude over the city.
Senior American military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing operation, told the Associated Press that the chaos left seven dead, including several who fell from the flight. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said US forces killed two people he described as carrying weapons in the melee. He said 1000 more US troops would be deployed to secure the airfield and back up the 2500 already there.
Late Monday night, hundreds of people remained trapped between American forces trying to push them out of the airport and Taliban forces trying to keep them in, witnesses said. An Associated Press journalist also saw what appeared to be an airstrike target two vehicles near the airport.
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 returned home.
Other Afghans, like Rakhmatula Kuyash, are also trying to leave through land border crossings, all of which are now controlled by the Taliban.
“I’m lost and I don’t know what to do,” said Kuyash, who crossed into Uzbekistan on Sunday after leaving his children and relatives in Afghanistan. “I left everything behind.”
Others were not so lucky. Uzbekistan air defenses shot down an Afghan military aircraft that tried to enter the country without permission. The two pilots were reportedly injured and in custody.
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