Mayhem At Kabul Airport Causing American Troops To Fire Warning Shots To Push Back Crowds (Updated)

Large groups of Afghan civilians have flooded onto the flightline at Hamid Karzai International Airport as they flee the Taliban’s final advance.

byJoseph Trevithick and Tyler Rogoway|
Afghanistan photo


A video has emerged that appears to show U.S. troops at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul shooting into the air as they try to keep civilians off the flightline. Throngs of Afghans trying to flee the country are presently stranded at the airport, which is currently being run entirely by the U.S. military and has been closed to commercial aircraft. The airport has become an island of foreign control within the Afghan capital, which is otherwise all but entirely under de facto control of the Taliban. You can read more about the Taliban's advance into the city and the U.S. and other foreign evacuation operations that have been going on all day in The War Zone's initial reporting on the still-developing crisis here.

The video clip in question, seen in the tweet following the satellite image below, was reportedly shot at Hamid Karzai International Airport earlier this evening. It is taken from the perspective of a crowd of Afghans. Right at the beginning, a burst of automatic weapon fire is heard, followed by what sounds like American troops shouting "get back" in English. It can be extremely dangerous to have people milling about like this on or along active aircraft movement areas, which can force aircraft to abort movements, damage aircraft, or worse.

A satellite image of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 15, 2021., PHOTO © 2021 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION

Other video clips, as well as pictures, had already emerged earlier that showed large amounts of civilians milling about on the airport grounds, underscoring the increasing desperation among those trying to escape ahead of the Taliban's imminent takeover.

“The DOD has halted all incoming and outgoing flights on the civilian side of the airport,” an Afghan official told The Daily Beast about the frustrations felt by many of these individuals. “Women, children, and government workers with visas cannot get out of the country because the U.S. is blocking them.”

Those frustrations, and the tensions that go with them, could easily grow as the U.S. military continues to try to help primarily U.S. diplomatic staff evacuate the country. Reports indicate that at least 500, and possibly more, U.S. government personnel have flown out on American military aircraft, as well as those belonging to the U.S. State Department, so far. The plan is still for U.S. military forces to eventually be able to help thousands of individuals get out every day, but the capacity to conduct operations at that scale is still reportedly days away from being in place. 

There has been talk about American forces assisting other third-party nationals leave, as well as helping to speed up the departure of Afghans eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) due to their work with the U.S. government. However, so far, there does not appear to be any serious discussion about any sort of massive airlift of all Afghan civilians fleeing from the Taliban.

It's not clear how long the people massing at Hamid Karzai International Airport will be able to remain there without guarantees of at least food and water. It's also unclear how long the airport would be able to remain open to commercial air traffic in any case due to various issues, such as potential shortages of air traffic controllers and aviation fuel, let aircraft aircraft being swarmed by people on the ground.

In the meantime, American troops, as well as forces from other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have begun to arrive at the airport to help provide security for the evacuations. At present, the U.S. military plans to deploy a total of 6,000 Marines and Army soldiers. The need to accommodate those personnel at Hamid Karzai International Airport could put additional strains on the facility.

Other foreign personnel, including the bulk of the staff from the U.S. Embassy, are already now operating out of the airport, as well. Ross Wilson, the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy, the top American diplomat in the country, relocated to the airport, as did the U.S. flag that had flown over the Embassy, earlier in the day.

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How long the Taliban will be willing to accept foreign military presence at the airport, which has come under sporadic gunfire during the day remains to be seen. U.S. military officials reportedly met with representatives of the group at their political office in Doha, Qatar, to stress that any attacks on Americans would be met with swift retaliation. There were no other reported threats to otherwise intervene in response to any sort of malign Taliban activity elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Whether or not the airport ultimately comes under serious attack, the situation there is already chaotic and could become more so soon if civilians there feel they need to take even more drastic and desperate measures to get out of the country. Regardless, unless contained, the airport will not be able to function with mobs of people running around its aprons and taxiways.

We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

Update 7:30 PM EST:

CNN is also reporting that the last flight, at least for the immediate future, of Afghans eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) to the United States has left Afghanistan. President Joe Biden's administration has reportedly curtailed those flights to focus its attention on getting Americans out of the country.

Update 10:35 PM EST:

We have a new story up on the C-17 that supposedly airlifted 800 people out of Kabul on a single flight, including some radio recordings of the shock of the person on the other end hearing the load number. Check that out here.

The exact situation with the accessibility of Kabul International to commercial flights remains somewhat murky. The U.S. military is in control of the airport and says it is open to commercial flights, but that may not entirely be the case considering the situation on the ground. Airplane trackers have also seen flights being held from landing. So, exactly what capacity the airport has to support commercial evacuation flights remains unclear. 

Afghans continue to flood the airport in hopes of departing before the Taliban are firmly in control, which will only make the situation on the ground inside the airport much more dangerous:

There is also the case of one fully boarded KamAir airliner that was apparently commandeered and de-boarded by "special forces." These are not U.S., according to reports. It isn't clear exactly what the situation is here. It could be that the plane will not be able to take off due to the security situation or something more nefarious, we just don't know at this time.

Update 2 AM EST:

The situation on the ground at Kabul international has only gotten worse since the sun rose. The videos are not pretty:

As you can see, flight operations under these conditions are not really possible and the situation could turn worse for the U.S. troops tasked with protecting military-led evacuations. A very tense time we are entering into here. The desperation of many Afghans is abundantly clear.

Meanwhile, large columns of Taliban foot soldiers are now pouring into Kabul:

Update 3:30 AM EST:

Things are getting worse around Kabul International. Reports state that gunfire is now far more common and the Taliban are moving into the area en masse. 

Making things worse, movements at the airport may be totally at a standstill as reports state that Afghans have stormed the runway. This video below, which is stunning, shows just how far the security situation may have degraded, which is very alarming. We cannot authenticate the video below at this time, but it is very troubling:

Update 4:14 AM EST:

We have a new post up, which you can find here, and will be updating it going forward. 

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