Hundreds of desperate Afghans cram into US cargo plane as they flee Taliban

17 August 2021, 07:21 | Updated: 17 August 2021, 12:56

A photograph showed hundreds of Afghan refugees crammed into an "unplanned" rescue flight
A photograph showed hundreds of Afghan refugees crammed into an "unplanned" rescue flight. Picture: Defense One

By Daisy Stephens

Hundreds of civilians have escaped Afghanistan in a US military plane, captured in a dramatic photograph showing men, women and children crammed into the aircraft after climbing in at the last minute.

The plane departed Kabul on Sunday with around 640 Afghans on board – reportedly around five times its capacity – and touched down safely in Qatar.

An official told Defense One that the move was not planned, but the "crew made the decision to go" when hundreds of panicked Afghans climbed in through the half-open ramp of the plane.

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Hundreds of civilians flooded to Kabul airport on Monday after the Taliban seized control of the city over the weekend.

There are also around 4,000 people waiting to be evacuated back to Britain, including British nationals, diplomats, charity workers and Afghan special forces.

A flight is expected to arrive Brize Norton later on Tuesday carrying around 150 people, in addition to the 370 that have already arrived.

Footage on social media showed people trying to climb into the landing gear of planes as they moved along the runway, with some reportedly falling soon after take off.

At least five people were also killed in the airport itself when US troops fired into the air amid the chaos as they tried to evacuate embassy staff.

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The Taliban have been making rapid gains ever since western troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan.

The takeover accelerated in recent days, with the militant group now in control of most of the country.

They announced the creation of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and there are worries they will reinstate an extreme form of sharia law in the country last seen there in 2001.

The regime could include public executions and amputation as forms of punishments, and strict restrictions on things like music, the media and women’s rights.

In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new resettlement scheme for Afghans "most in need", which will prioritise women and girls most vulnerable to severe repression since the collapse of the Afghan government.

However charities are accusing the UK Government of not doing enough, with Amnesty International UK saying the scheme was "grossly flawed and utterly inadequate".

"The chaos unfolding in Kabul means there are a matter of hours, not days, in which the UK could potentially save lives," said chief executive Sacha Deshmukh.

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US President Joe Biden has defended the decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.

Making his first address since the Taliban took control of the country, Mr Biden said: "I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years I learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces."

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However he said he "always promised the American people I would be straight with you" as he added: "The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated."

He blamed the situation on Afghanistan political leaders fleeing the country and said the Afghan military had collapsed "sometimes without trying to fight".

"We gave them every chance to determine their own future," he said. "What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future."

He added: "If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.

"American troops cannot and should not be fighting the war, and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves."