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Hasty Afghanistan Evacuation Continues Amid Turmoil at Airport

By Carla Babb August 16, 2021

A day after the Afghan capital fell to the Taliban without a fight, U.S. and other foreign forces continue to protect and hold Kabul's international airport, where panicked crowds have fled to seek refuge from the Taliban.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday at the Pentagon that air traffic at Hamid Karzai International Airport had been halted for hours amid the hectic security situation, preventing more U.S. troops from arriving to bolster security and more evacuees from leaving.

Video from the airport shared on social media showed disorder and desperation, including one of Afghans clinging to the sides of a U.S. military aircraft, and another of what appeared to be a person falling from a U.S. military plane after it took off.

The Pentagon has confirmed at least two deaths at the airport. Two armed gunmen fired into the crowds in two separate incidents, and both were killed by U.S. forces acting on a "real and tangible threat," Kirby said.

"We don't have any indications that they were Taliban," he added.

A U.S. official who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity also said reports of multiple civilian deaths during the takeoff of a U.S. military transport plane were "currently under investigation."

General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, met Sunday with the Taliban in Qatar and warned them that the U.S. military would use self-defense should the militant group try to interfere with the massive evacuation mission, according to senior defense officials.

Asked how many C-17 transport aircraft were being utilized to fly people out of Afghanistan, one senior defense official replied, "every one that's available."

The U.S. has approved between 6,000 to 7,000 troops to assist with security and evacuations on the ground, more than double the number of American troops in Afghanistan when the withdrawal was announced in May.

Defense officials say less than half of those troops are in the country at this time.

NATO on Sunday also began focusing its efforts on the airport, though it said it was also seeking to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul.

The U.S. military is now assessing two additional military facilities within the U.S. to house up to 22,000 at-risk Afghan nationals in the coming weeks, Kirby said. Afghans who helped U.S. military forces and diplomats, mostly as interpreters and drivers, have already been arriving at Fort Lee in the U.S. state of Virginia.

Meanwhile, concern is growing about what is to come for Afghan troops who defended their nation against the Taliban.

Afghan Colonel Rahman Rahmani, a pilot currently studying in the U.S., said via Twitter that the Taliban were going door to door killing Afghan special operators and Afghan pilots.

He said his house was taken by "terrorists," and his mother and five siblings are trapped in the country.

"The West left us with betrayal," he said.

Taliban insurgents led Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when they were overthrown by U.S. and international forces.

Recently they seized most of the country in a matter of weeks after launching a swift military campaign that caused many Afghan forces to flee or surrender.

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