U.S. soldiers reportedly fired warning shots into the air and used smoke grenades to disperse crowds of desperate Afghans.
At least five people were reportedly killed at Kabul’s international airport on Monday as thousands of desperate Afghan civilians and foreign nationals gathered there in hopes of boarding a flight out of the country, with the Taliban quickly moving to retake power after two decades of disastrous U.S. occupation.
Disturbing video footage posted to social media shows three people on the ground just outside the airport terminal building, but there were conflicting reports on how they may have been wounded or killed. While the Wall Street Journal reported that three people at the airport were “killed by gunfire,” Reuters cited witnesses who said it was not clear whether the people had been shot or “killed in a stampede.”
The Journal, which did not initially assign responsibility for the purported deadly gunfire, noted that “U.S. Marines fired warning shots late Sunday when hundreds of Afghans who breached the perimeter rushed to board an idling C-17 transport aircraft.” (Update: the Journal later reported that “U.S. troops shot and killed two armed men at Kabul’s international airport.”)
“According to people trapped in the airport, American troops repeatedly shot in the air to disperse the crowds during the night,” the Journal reported. “Hundreds of Afghan civilians were seen close to the runway and around parked planes Monday morning, with some hanging from boarding ramps as they scrambled to get into the aircraft… The U.S. military used two military helicopters flying low overhead to try to disperse the crowds, using smoke grenades and firing shots into the air, passengers said.”
— Nicola Careem (@NicolaCareem) August 16, 2021
One video posted to Twitter shows dozens of people running next to a U.S. Air Force plane—with some trying to cling to its sides—as it attempted to take off. Several people reportedly fell from the aircraft to their death after the plane took flight.
The Biden administration has authorized the deployment of around 6,000 U.S. troops to Kabul to help with the evacuation of American personnel and Afghans who assisted the U.S. mission in the country, which began with an invasion in 2001. According to Brown University’s Costs of War project, 241,000 people were killed as a direct result of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, including more than 47,000 Afghan civilians.
“The Pentagon intends to have enough aircraft to fly out as many as 5,000 civilians a day, both Americans and the Afghan translators and others who worked with the U.S. during the war,” the Associated Press reported Monday. “But tens of thousands of Afghans who have worked with U.S. and other NATO forces are seeking to flee with family members. And it was by no means clear how long Kabul’s deteriorating security would allow any evacuations to continue.”
The U.S. has temporarily halted evacuation flights from Kabul to “clear people who had converged on the airfield,” France24 reported.
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