General Frank McKenzie, the head of CENTCOM, met directly with Taliban officials on Sunday for negotiations
The evacuation operation at the international airport in Kabul has been thrown into chaos, with thousands awaiting airlift after chaos on the runways that killed eight and halted all flights.
American’s initial plans to evacuate tens of thousands of Afghan civilians now appear unlikely to succeed, with Taliban militants in U.S.-issued armored vehicles now surrounding Hamid Karzai International Airport, cutting it off from the rest of Kabul.
There are currently about 3,000 U.S. troops inside the airport, with that number expected to soon swell to 6,000, as concerns mount that Afghan security contractors may mutiny if they suspect they will not be given passage out of the country.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said that all embassy personnel had been transferred to Kabul airport, but it remained unclear on Monday how many had been successfully extracted from the country.
It was also unclear how many Afghan nationals are currently at the airport seeking evacuation, but insiders say that at most, only one or two thousand translators and other civilians are likely to be airlifted out.
The confusion comes as Germany said it wants to evacuate up to 10,000 people, including 2,500 Afghan support staff, human rights activists, lawyers and others whose work Chancellor Angela Merkel fears puts them at risk of the Taliban.
Merkel said her government would also work with countries bordering Afghanistan to try and help people flee, and admitted: ‘This topic will keep us busy for a very long time.’
Meanwhile, the UK has estimated that around 50,000 US and British people, alongside their allies, will need to be rescued. They hope to airlift around 5,000 a day, meaning that operation could last for weeks.
U.S. troops have taken over air-traffic control functions at the airport and halted civilian flights. On Monday, military evacuation flights were halted as well to clear the runways after scores of Afghans swarmed a C-17 Globemaster on the tarmac, clinging to it as it took off, with several falling to their deaths.
U.S. Central Command, which is overseeing the international evacuation effort, did not immediately respond to an inquiry from DailyMail.com on Monday. General Frank McKenzie, the head of CENTCOM, met directly with Taliban officials on Sunday in Doha in order to negotiate safe passage for the evacuation flights.
A U.S. official said that McKenzie and the Taliban agreed to establish a ‘deconfliction mechanism’ – an arrangement by which evacuation operations at the airport could continue without interference by the Islamist militants.
A U.S. defense official said American warplanes – which had been pounding Taliban targets during the withdrawal, in a failed effort to help Afghan forces block the Taliban blitz – were not currently conducting any airstrikes.
Reports from the ground suggest that the Taliban are not interfering with the U.S. evacuation — and in fact, their security perimeter stopping desperate Afghans from flooding into the airport may even be helping the Americans restore order on the tarmac in order to resume flights out.
The evacuation operation at the international airport in Kabul has been thrown into chaos, with all civilian and military flights halted as satellite images show desperate Afghans storming the tarmac in an attempt to flee
Thousands of Afghans rush to the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to flee the Afghan capital of Kabul on Monday
A Taliban fighter on top of an armored vehicle loads a gun outside the airport in Kabul. Reports from the ground suggest that the Taliban are not interfering with the U.S. evacuation, but have the airport surrounded
Nearly all civilian flights are avoiding Afghan airspace, as this map of air traffic on Monday shows
U.S. forces are working with Turkish and other international troops to clear Kabul airport to allow evacuation to resume, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Monday.
Gunmen at the airport shot at U.S. forces and U.S. troops had shot dead two armed Afghans, Kirby said. He said there were preliminary indications that one U.S. service member had been wounded.
Kirby said no flights were currently coming or going from the airport out of an abundance of caution and he did not know when they would resume, but U.S. forces had control of air traffic control at Kabul.
Several hundred people had been flown out of the airport so far and the pace of evacuation would depend on the security situation, the spokesman said.
‘The U.S. military´s focus at the moment in on safety and security at the airport and resuming air operations,’ he said.
On Sunday, one U.S. military C-17 was packed with 800 people upon takeoff, far in excess of the 150 people it is designed to hold, traffic control broadcasts revealed.
The rescue mission is reminiscent of the Fall of Saigon in 1975, a disastrous few days where US Air Force helicopters flew thousands of Americans and Vietnamese civilians out of the city as the war there ended in a humiliating defeat for America.
The shocking images from Kabul have drawn furious criticism over President Joe Biden’s handling of the withdrawal. Biden will speak at 3:45pm EST, and there will be a Department of Defense briefing at 4.30pm EST.
Hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul on Monday. Several people were killed as they tried to cling to the plane as it took off
Thousands of Afghans have rushed onto the tarmac at the airport, some so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto the American military jet as it took off and plunged to death
People climb a barbed wire wall to enter the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday. U.S. troops have taken over air-traffic control functions at the airport and halted civilian flights
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said that all embassy personnel had been transferred to Kabul airport, but it remained unclear on Monday how many had been successfully extracted from the country
A huge traffic jam is seen as Afghans congregated near the airport in an attempt to flee the country
FALL OF KABUL: A TIMELINE OF THE TALIBAN’S FAST ADVANCE AFTER 40 YEARS OF CONFLICT
Feb. 29, 2020 Trump negotiates deal with the Taliban setting U.S. withdrawal date for May 1, 2021
Nov. 17, 2020 Pentagon announces it will reduce troop levels to 2500 in Afghanistan
Jan. 15, 2020 Inspector general reveals ‘hubris and mendacity’ of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan
Feb 3. 2021 Afghan Study Group report warns against withdrawing ‘irresponsibly’
March Military command makes last-ditch effort to talk Biden out of withdrawal
April 14 Biden announces withdrawal will be completed by Sept. 11
May 4 – Taliban fighters launch a major offensive on Afghan forces in southern Helmand province. They also attack in at least six other provinces
May 11 – The Taliban capture Nerkh district just outside the capital Kabul as violence intensifies across the country
June 7 – Senior government officials say more than 150 Afghan soldiers are killed in 24 hours as fighting worsens. They add that fighting is raging in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces
June 22 – Taliban fighters launch a series of attacks in the north of the country, far from their traditional strongholds in the south. The UN envoy for Afghanistan says they have taken more than 50 of 370 districts
July 2 – The U.S. evacuates Bagram Airfield in the middle of the night
July 5 – The Taliban say they could present a written peace proposal to the Afghan government as soon as August
July 21 – Taliban insurgents control about a half of the country’s districts, according to the senior U.S. general, underlining the scale and speed of their advance
July 25 – The United States vows to continue to support Afghan troops “in the coming weeks” with intensified airstrikes to help them counter Taliban attacks
July 26 – The United Nations says nearly 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in May and June in escalating violence, the highest number for those months since records started in 2009
Aug. 6 – Zaranj in the south of the country becomes the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in years. Many more are to follow in the ensuing days, including the prized city of Kunduz in the north
Aug. 13 – Pentagon insists Kabul is not under imminent threat
Aug. 14 – The Taliban take the major northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and, with little resistance, Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province just 70 km (40 miles) south of Kabul. The United States sends more troops to help evacuate its civilians from Kabul as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he is consulting with local and international partners on next steps
Aug. 15 – The Taliban take the key eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, effectively surrounding Kabul
Taliban insurgents enter Kabul, an interior ministry official says, as the United States evacuate diplomats from its embassy by helicopter
The likelihood of civilian flights resuming in the near term in Kabul remained dubious. Several airlines, including British Airways and Air France-KLM, are avoiding Afghan airspace.
United Airlines has started rerouting its India flights, while FlyDubai and Emirates have also suspended flights to Kabul, according to CNBC.
Cathay Pacific said it hasn’t been flying over Afghanistan for some time but is closely monitoring the situation, while spokesman for Air India said scheduled flights to Kabul cannot fly because Afghanistan is declared closed, according to Bloomberg.
French, Dutch and Belgian military flights are now en route to Kabul to evacuate diplomats and other citizens.
The Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing an end to a two-decade campaign in which the U.S. and its allies had tried to transform Afghanistan into a modern democracy. The country’s Western-trained security forces collapsed or fled, ahead of the planned withdrawal of the last American troops at the end of the month.
Residents raced to Kabul’s international airport, where the ‘civilian side’ was closed until further notice, according to Afghanistan´s Civil Aviation Authority. The U.S. military and other Western forces continued to organize evacuations.
Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of people running across the tarmac as U.S. 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 U.S. 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 airplane rapidly gained altitude over the city.
Senior 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. Other reports suggest that at least eight people have been killed.
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.
The U.S. Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport to aid with the evacuation. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and nationals.
Afghans are also trying to leave through land border crossings, all of which are now controlled by the Taliban. Rakhmatula Kuyash, 30, was one of the few people with a visa allowing him to cross into Uzbekistan on Sunday. He said his children and relatives had to stay behind.
‘I’m lost and I don´t know what to do. I left everything behind,’ he said.
The French military has launched a C-130 Hercules and an A400M Atlas in order to evacuate French nationals from Afghanistan.
The Dutch military plans to operate ‘multiple’ flights to Afghanistan, the country’s defense minister said in a statement on Monday.
Hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down a runway of the Kabul airport
Afghan families walk by the aircrafts at the Kabul airport in Kabul on Monday, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the Taliban’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule
An Afghan child on the tarmac as he and elders wait to leave the Kabul airport on Monday, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee
Thousands of Afghans swarmed the runways at Hamid Karzai International Airport, which is now surrounded by the Taliban
Ank Bijleveld said one aircraft was already underway to Kabul. ‘In part due to the uncertain situation multiple flights are planned,’ she said.
‘We are doing all we can to get embassy staff, translators and others who deserve our protection out’, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters in The Hague. ‘But it’s very complicated.’
Last week Bijleveld put the number of Afghan translators and local staff to be evacuated at ‘a few dozen,’ and press agency ANP on Sunday reported that 110 translators and their families, out of 273 that worked for the Dutch mission in Afghanistan, have already been evacuated.
Belgium will send military planes to Kabul to evacuate Belgian citizens and Afghan staff, news agency Belga reported on Monday.
Foreign affairs minister Sophie Wilmes told Belgian daily Le Soir that evacuation was being organized for 47 Belgians and more than 20 Afghans who worked for the Belgian embassy, Belgian Defence, the European External Action Service, or the EU’s Directorate General for Economy.
Belgium will send three military transportation planes, one Airbus 400M and two Lockheed C-130, Le Soir reported.
A senior U.S. official said ‘it´s heartbreaking’ to see what´s happening in Kabul, but that President Joe Biden ‘stands by’ his decision to pull out because he didn’t want the war there – already the longest in U.S. history – to enter a third decade.
In interviews with U.S. television networks, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan blamed the Afghan military for the Taliban’s rapid takeover, saying it lacked the will to fight.
The ease with which the Taliban took control goes beyond military prowess, however, the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratford wrote.
‘The speed of the Taliban´s final advance suggests less military dominance than effective political insurgency coupled with an incohesive Afghan political system and security force struggling with flagging morale,’ it said.
Hug crowds gathered near the airport’s perimeter to try to find a way in, but the gates are now guarded by the Taliban
The first evacuation flight, as part of the airlift developed by the Italian Defense after the rapid advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan, landed the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ international airport in Fiumicino, near Rome on Monday