KEY POINTS

  • U.S. forces fired in the air to prevent civilians from running onto the tarmac
  • Over 1,000 U.S. troops were flown into Kabul to help secure the airfield
  • Heartrending scenes at Kabul airport reminded many of the fall of Saigon

Amid the unfurling chaos in Kabul as the Taliban take control of the city, thousands of people flocked into the tarmac of the airport Monday in a desperate attempt to flee the country. 

Heartbreaking videos on Twitter showed Afghans, including men, women, and children, surging toward parked civilian planes at the airport, with hundreds struggling to climb aboard any available aircraft. 

"I see people crying, they are not sure whether their flight will happen or not. Neither am I," Massouma Tajik, a 22-year-old data analyst, one of the Afghans waiting anxiously in the Kabul airport to board an evacuation flight, told The Guardian. 

Horrific footage doing rounds on social media showed two people falling off an aircraft minutes after it took off from Kabul. Though the video could not be verified, local people have reportedly said they saw three men hiding near the wheels of the aircraft and later falling on the rooftop of nearby houses. Another video showed hundreds of men running alongside a US Air Force plane as it rolls down the runway, with some clinging to the side of it.

Some reports said U.S. forces guarding the airport fired in the air Monday to prevent civilians from running onto the tarmac.

"The crowd was out of control. The firing was only done to defuse the chaos," Reuters quoted an official as saying.

U.S. military officials are overseeing air traffic control at the field, run by Afghan nationals. An additional 1,000 American troops were flown into the country to help secure the airfield. 

According to unconfirmed reports, commercial planes had been overwhelmed by the crowds, and some people had to be deboarded as planes were overweight and could not take off.

Meanwhile, reports from India said that Air India had canceled a scheduled flight to Kabul as the Afghanistan airspace is closed.

The heartrending scenes at Kabul airport reminded many of the fall of Saigon, which played out almost half a century ago. On April 30, 1975, photos showed a crowd of Vietnamese civilians on the roof of the U.S. embassy, waiting to be rescued by military helicopters. Immediately after the U.S. forces left after 19 years in the country, Saigon fell to Communist-ruled North Vietnam. Many of the South Vietnamese never made it out of the country.

President Joe Biden had on July 8 rejected a repeat of Saigon but that is exactly what is now happening in Kabul. 

A US military helicopter is pictured flying above the US embassy in Kabul A US military helicopter is pictured flying above the US embassy in Kabul Photo: AFP / Wakil KOHSAR