Panic in Kabul: Three stowaways ‘fall to their deaths from plane’ and five others are killed

Three stowaways are reported to have fallen to have fallen to their deaths from one airborne plane and a further five people have been killed at Kabul airport as thousands of Afghans try desperately to get on flights out of the country amid increasingly chaotic scenes. 

US troops fired shots in the air at Hamad Karzai airport to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac after they took over Afghanistan’s air traffic control. Witnesses said it was not clear whether the victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede.  

Footage published by Aśvaka showed three stowaways falling to the deaths after clinging on to the wheels of a military plane as it took off from Kabul airport. 

Panicked Afghans were also seen climbing up the outside of an airbridge in a bid to get onboard planes and chasing a US military C-17 down the runway. Video also showed hundreds of people running alongside – and in front of – a US Air Force plane preparing to take off.

All commercial services have been suspended, with only military flights leaving the country as the UK, US and other western countries repatriate their citizens. 

It comes as the Ministry of Defence confirmed the first British nationals had landed at RAF base Brize Norton after being evacuated from Kabul.  

The Taliban swept into the capital on Sunday after the Western-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing a stunning end to a two-decade campaign in which the US and its allies had tried to transform the country. 

The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians.  

Almost all major checkpoints in Kabul were under Taliban control by Monday morning and Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory saying the ‘civilian side’ of the airport had been ‘closed until further notice’ and that the military controlled the airspace. 

Taliban officials said everyone would be allowed to return home from Kabul airport if they decide to stay in the country and promised civilians would not be harmed. The group previously said westerners would be allowed to leave the country but that Afghans would be barred from departing. 

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded. Early Monday morning, flight-tracking data showed no immediate commercial flights over the country.

Video posted social media showed hundreds of people scampering with their luggage toward the safety of the airport terminal with the sound of gunfire breaking out.  

It comes as: 

  • Taliban fighters were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul as thousands of hopeful Afghans gathered on the runway at Hamid Karzai airport trying desperately to escape from Afghanistan;  
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said troops would be deployed to Afghanistan to evacuate German citizens and Afghans in danger from the Taliban; 
  • The US ambassador and embassy staff fled Afghanistan after Taliban forces stormed Kabul;    
  • President Biden ordered about 5,000 troops to help evacuate US staff ‘and other allied personnel’;
  • PM Boris Johnson said said the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan had ‘accelerated’ the crisis;
  • British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was forced to return to the UK from his holiday abroad; 
  • Tory MPs called fallout from Anglo-US withdrawal ‘Britain’s worst foreign policy disaster since Suez’;
  • MPs are expected to to vent their anger and frustration when they return to Westminster on Wednesday for an emergency recall of Parliament to discuss the crisis;
  • President Biden defended the withdrawal of US troops and blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for a deal that left the warlords ‘in the strongest position militarily since 2001’; 
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted the scene in Afghanistan is not comparable to the fall of Saigon as he diverted blame for the Taliban takeover on Republicans.
Footage from Hamad Karzai airport showed hundreds of people running alongside - and in front of - a US Air Force plane preparing to take off

Footage from Hamad Karzai airport showed hundreds of people running alongside - and in front of - a US Air Force plane preparing to take off

Footage from Hamad Karzai airport showed hundreds of people running alongside – and in front of – a US Air Force plane preparing to take off

US troops fired shots into the air at Kabul airport today as desperate Afghans climbed up the outside of airbridges trying to flee as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan

US troops fired shots into the air at Kabul airport today as desperate Afghans climbed up the outside of airbridges trying to flee as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan

US troops fired shots into the air at Kabul airport today as desperate Afghans climbed up the outside of airbridges trying to flee as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan

Video posted social media showed hundreds of people trying to climb the outside of airbridges to board commercial liners grounded in Hamad Karzai airport

Video posted social media showed hundreds of people trying to climb the outside of airbridges to board commercial liners grounded in Hamad Karzai airport

 Video posted social media showed hundreds of people trying to climb the outside of airbridges to board commercial liners grounded in Hamad Karzai airport

At least five people have been killed at Kabul airport as thousands of people desperately try to flee the country

At least five people have been killed at Kabul airport as thousands of people desperately try to flee the country

Witnesses said it was not clear whether the victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede

Witnesses said it was not clear whether the victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede

At least five people have been killed at Kabul airport as thousands of people tried desperately to get on flights out of Afghanistan amid increasingly chaotic scenes. Witnesses said it was not clear whether the victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede

US troops fired shots in the air at Hama Karzai airport to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac after they took control of the airport in Kabul and the country's air traffic control

US troops fired shots in the air at Hama Karzai airport to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac after they took control of the airport in Kabul and the country's air traffic control

US troops fired shots in the air at Hama Karzai airport to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac after they took control of the airport in Kabul and the country’s air traffic control

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded

Early Monday morning, flight-tracking data showed no immediate commercial flights over the country even as thousands of Afghans flooded Kabul airport

Early Monday morning, flight-tracking data showed no immediate commercial flights over the country even as thousands of Afghans flooded Kabul airport

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded. Early Monday morning, flight-tracking data showed no immediate commercial flights over the country even as thousands of Afghans flooded Kabul airport

The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians after the Taliban walked into Kabul's presidential palace

The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians after the Taliban walked into Kabul's presidential palace

The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians after the Taliban walked into Kabul’s presidential palace

In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces

In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces

In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces

Desperate Afghans were seen chasing US military C-17s

Desperate Afghans were seen chasing US military C-17s

The evacuation flights took off from Kabul airport on Monday

The evacuation flights took off from Kabul airport on Monday

Desperate Afghans were seen chasing US military C-17s as the evacuation flights took off from Kabul airport on Monday

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded

Soldiers fired warning shots in the air to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac

Soldiers fired warning shots in the air to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded. Soldiers fired warning shots in the air to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac, a US official said

US soldiers take up their positions as they secure the airport in Kabul after the Taliban walked into the capital, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

US soldiers take up their positions as they secure the airport in Kabul after the Taliban walked into the capital, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

US soldiers take up their positions as they secure the airport in Kabul after the Taliban walked into the capital, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

Thousands of Afghans gathered at Kabul's Hamid Karzai airport, but all commercial services have been suspended, with only military flights leaving the country as the UK, US and other western countries repatriate their citizens

Thousands of Afghans gathered at Kabul's Hamid Karzai airport, but all commercial services have been suspended, with only military flights leaving the country as the UK, US and other western countries repatriate their citizens

Thousands of Afghans gathered at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai airport, but all commercial services have been suspended, with only military flights leaving the country as the UK, US and other western countries repatriate their citizens

US military Appache helicopters were seen flying low over Kabul airport

US military Appache helicopters were seen flying low over Kabul airport

Troops tried to control crowds of thousands of Afghans desperate to escape the country after the Taliban takeover

Troops tried to control crowds of thousands of Afghans desperate to escape the country after the Taliban takeover

US military Appache helicopters were seen flying low over Kabul airport on Monday as troops tried to control crowds of thousands of Afghans desperate to escape the country after the Taliban takeover

American soldiers fired warning shots in the air to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac, a US official said.

‘The crowd was out of control,’ the official told Reuters by phone. ‘The firing was only done to defuse the chaos.’

Several dozen French citizens are to be repatriated by plane from Afghanistan, French Armed Forces minister Florence Parly told France Info radio on Monday, as Western nations scrambled to evacuate their citizens.  

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the military side of Kabul airport was secure and that Britain was doing everything it could to evacuate British citizens and Afghans with links to Britain.

‘Our target is… about 1200 to 1500 exit a day in the capacity of our airplanes, and we’ll keep that flow,’ he said.

Britain has relocated its embassy to Kabul airport from the city. Asked what he would feel to see the Taliban flag flying over the former British embassy building in Kabul, Wallace said:

‘Symbolically, it’s not what any of us wanted.’ 

Wallace chocked up as he talked about the consequences of the collapse of the Western-trained Afghan army, after the Taliban walked into Kabul and took charge of the presidential palace. 

He said the crisis had become inevitable after a deal was struck with the extremists and the US pulled out, and the focus was now on evacuating British nationals, interpreters and others who might be subject to reprisals.

But he conceded that ‘some people won’t get back’. ‘It is sad the West has done what it has done,’ he said. ‘Twenty years of sacrifice.. is what it is.’  

Mr Wallace – who himself served in the military before entering politics – said he felt the issue so deeply because he was a soldier. 

Wallace later told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:  ‘President Biden inherited a momentum, a momentum that had been given to the Taliban because they felt they had now won, he’d also inherited a momentum of troop withdrawal from the international community, the US.’

‘So I think in that sense, the seeds of what we’re seeing today were before President Biden took office. The seeds were a peace deal that was [effectively] rushed, that wasn’t done in collaboration properly with the international community and then a dividend taken out incredibly quickly.’

MP Tobias Ellwood, former captain in the British Army and chairman of the defence select committee, criticised the West for pulling out of Afghanistan.

Appearing on Sky News, he said: ‘The world is now a little bit more dangerous because they’ve now taken control of the country, and the West should really hang its head in shame after abruptly abandoning Afghanistan to a civil war after two decades of effort.’

He added: ‘This is not a good day for the West at all, and China will be observing things very, very closely indeed. They are already making alliances with the Taliban and glossing over the human rights atrocities that are likely to unfold.’ 

It comes after the US government said late on Sunday all staff from the US Embassy in Kabul and were at the airport.

Ambassador Ross Wilson were both seen arriving at Kabul airport, as other Americans still in the country were ordered to shelter in place. 

Initially, the aim had been to have staff removed within 72 hours, but the Taliban’s advances across the Afghan capital Kabul prompted the immediate removal of all staff.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the military side of Kabul airport was secure and that Britain was doing everything it could to evacuate British citizens and Afghans with links to Britain

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the military side of Kabul airport was secure and that Britain was doing everything it could to evacuate British citizens and Afghans with links to Britain

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the military side of Kabul airport was secure and that Britain was doing everything it could to evacuate British citizens and Afghans with links to Britain

It comes as the Ministry of Defence confirmed the first British nationals had landed at RAF base Brize Norton after being evacuated from Kabul

It comes as the Ministry of Defence confirmed the first British nationals had landed at RAF base Brize Norton after being evacuated from Kabul

It comes as the Ministry of Defence confirmed the first British nationals had landed at RAF base Brize Norton after being evacuated from Kabul

Passengers arrived in RAF base Brize Norton after an evacuation flight from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan

Passengers arrived in RAF base Brize Norton after an evacuation flight from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan

Passengers arrived in RAF base Brize Norton after an evacuation flight from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan

A man sits inside the frame of a airplane engine while waiting for an evacuation flight out of Kabul after the Taliban took the capital on Sunday

A man sits inside the frame of a airplane engine while waiting for an evacuation flight out of Kabul after the Taliban took the capital on Sunday

A man sits inside the frame of a airplane engine while waiting for an evacuation flight out of Kabul after the Taliban took the capital on Sunday

Thousands of Afghans were at Hamad Karzai airport

Thousands of Afghans were at Hamad Karzai airport

Desperate Afghans tried to flee the country after the Taliban swept Kabul on Sunday

Desperate Afghans tried to flee the country after the Taliban swept Kabul on Sunday

Thousands of Afghans were at Hamad Karzai airport desperately trying to flee the country after the Taliban swept the capital on Sunday

Taliban members were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul on Monday morning after sweeping across the capital on Sunday

Taliban members were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul on Monday morning after sweeping across the capital on Sunday

Taliban members were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul on Monday morning after sweeping across the capital on Sunday

Taliban fighters removed the Afghan national flag and raised the group's white flag in Kabul on Sunday after sweeping across the country and forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

Taliban fighters removed the Afghan national flag and raised the group's white flag in Kabul on Sunday after sweeping across the country and forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

Taliban fighters removed the Afghan national flag and raised the group’s white flag in Kabul on Sunday after sweeping across the country and forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

Taliban members were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul on Monday as the US and UK hurried to evacuate their ambassadors and citizens from Afghanistan

Taliban members were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul on Monday as the US and UK hurried to evacuate their ambassadors and citizens from Afghanistan

Taliban members were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul on Monday as the US and UK hurried to evacuate their ambassadors and citizens from Afghanistan

Taliban fighters guard a roadside near the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on Monday after the group swept the capital, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

Taliban fighters guard a roadside near the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on Monday after the group swept the capital, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

Taliban fighters guard a roadside near the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on Monday after the group swept the capital, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

Pakistan’s state-run airline says it has halted all flights to Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul because of the ‘uncertain security situation’ there.  

Spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said Monday that Pakistan International Airlines decided to protect passengers, the crew and the planes after consulting the Afghan civil aviation authorities. He spoke as embassies scrambled to evacuate personnel and Afghan employees through the airport. 

Australia is sending three transport and air-to-air refueling jets with 250 military personnel to repatriate more than 130 Australians and their families from Afghanistan, officials said on Monday.

How did the Taliban take over Afghanistan so quickly?

The Taliban’s stunning and rapid takeover of Afghanistan was the result not only of their battlefield strength, but also a sustained push to force surrenders and cut deals.

The insurgents mixed threats and lures with propaganda and psychological warfare as they took city after city – some with barely a shot fired – eventually capturing the capital Kabul.

How did this happen? Why didn’t the Afghan army put up a fight? 

As foreign troops began their final withdrawal in May, Washington and Kabul were confident the Afghan military would put up a strong fight against the Taliban.

With more than 300,000 personnel and multi-billion-dollar equipment more advanced than the Taliban arsenal, Afghan forces were formidable – on paper.

In reality, they were plagued by corruption, poor leadership, lack of training and plummeting morale for years. Desertions were common and US government inspectors had long warned that the force was unsustainable.

Afghan forces put up strong resistance this summer in some areas such as Lashkar Gah in the south, but they now faced the Taliban without regular US air strikes and military support.

Faced with the smaller but highly motivated and cohesive enemy, many soldiers and even entire units simply deserted or surrendered, leaving the insurgents to capture city after city.

How did the Taliban take advantage of low morale? 

The seeds for the collapse were sown last year when Washington signed a deal with the insurgents to withdraw its troops completely.

For the Taliban, it was the beginning of their victory after nearly two decades of war. For many demoralised Afghans, it was betrayal and abandonment.

They continued to attack government forces but started to combine those with targeted killings of journalists and rights activists, ramping up an environment of fear.

They also pushed a narrative of inevitable Taliban victory in their propaganda and psychological operations.

Soldiers and local officials were reportedly bombarded with text messages in some areas, urging them to surrender or cooperate with the Taliban to avoid a worse fate.

Many were offered safe passage if they did not put up a fight, while others were reached through tribal and village elders.

What happened to the anti-Taliban warlords and their militias? 

With Afghan forces unable to hold off the Taliban advances, many of Afghanistan’s famed – and notorious – warlords rallied their militias and promised a black eye to the Taliban if they attacked their cities.

But with confidence plunging in the ability of Afghanistan’s government to survive, never mind hold off the insurgents, the writing was also on the wall for the warlords.

Their cities fell without a fight. Warlord Ismail Khan in the western city of Herat was captured by the Taliban as it fell.

Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor in the north fled to Uzbekistan, as their militia members abandoned humvees, weapons and even their uniforms on the road out of Mazar-i-Sharif.

But how were the Taliban able to do this so quickly?

The Taliban had started putting deals and surrender arrangements in place reportedly long before the launch of their blitz in May.

From individual soldiers and low-level government officials to apparently provincial governors and ministers, the insurgents pressed for deals – with the Taliban all but victorious, why put up a fight?

The strategy proved immensely effective.

The images from their final march to Kabul were not of bodies in the streets and bloody battlefields, but of Taliban and government officials sitting comfortably on couches as they formalised the handover of cities and provinces.

According to one reported US estimate less than a month before the fall of Kabul, the Afghan government could collapse in 90 days.

But once the Taliban captured their first provincial capital, it took less than two weeks.

Source: AFP 

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Australia is also working to evacuate an undisclosed number of refugees, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.

An Airbus A330 airliner modified for aerial refueling would support US-led operations in Afghanistan later this week, Australia’s Defense Department said in a statement. Two C-17A Globemaster heavy transport aircraft would also be sent to the Middle East, the statement said.

Australia shut its Kabul embassy in May and withdrew the last of its troops from Afghanistan in June. 

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel said soldiers would be deployed to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of Germany nationals and Afghans in danger from the Taliban, parliamentary sources said.

The government is planning to seek a mandate from parliament to allow the deployment of as many as ‘several hundred soldiers’, the sources told AFP, citing a briefing by Merkel to leaders of parliamentary groups late on Sunday. 

Portugal’s defense minister says his country is prepared to take in 243 Afghans, and their families who worked with Portuguese forces stationed in the country.

Defense Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho said NATO is coordinating the evacuation of the Afghans because Portugal does not have the military capacity to do so. He told public broadcaster RTP late Sunday he is not aware of any Portuguese citizens living in Afghanistan.

Portugal had a small detachment of fewer than 200 troops stationed at Kabul airport, as part of the NATO mission in the country. The last ones pulled out at the end of May. 

While Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Monday that 19 embassy employees had been evacuated from Kabul to Doha, Qatar and that they will eventually flown to Sweden.

Earlier Monday, Norway and Denmark said that the bulk of the embassy staff were out of Afghanistan.  

Denmark’s Defense Minister Trine Bramsen told Danish broadcaster DR that while most Danish diplomats had been evacuated, ‘there are still Danes,’ and others in the country still to be flown out.

Challenges include being able to land at Kabul’s chaotic airport, he said. But there’s a struggle, too, to get people to the airport, ‘a very difficult operation,’ Bramsen was quoted as saying.   

Italy’s evacuated 70 embassy staff and Afghan employees from the capital city of Kabul with the plane scheduled to arrive in Rome on Monday. 

The evacuation is part of Italy’s Operation Aquila Omnia (Eagle Ready for Anything) to quickly evacuate Italian diplomatic staff, citizens and Afghan employees and family members. Italy had one of the largest contingents in Afghanistan before the pullout.

Italian journalist Francesca Mannocchi, who was on the plane, said that it was carrying 20 Afghan embassy employees and their families, including women and children. Prior to the Taliban advance, 228 Afghanis and their families had been transferred to Italy.

Officials declined to give number of how many remained, but Italian media reported over the weekend that some 390 Afghan citizens and their family members were awaiting evacuation. 

The first Czech evacuation flight has taken off from Kabul’s international airport and landed in Prague. Prime Minister Andrej Babis said 46 people were on board Monday’s flight.

They included Czech nationals, the Afghan staffers at the Czech embassy and Afghan interpreters who helped the Czech armed forces during NATO missions together with their families.

Babis didn’t immediately provide more details. It’s not clear how many such flights will follow.

Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek tweeted that given the deteriorating situation at Kabul’s airport, it was ‘a miracle’ that the Czech flight managed to take off.  

Saudi Arabia says it has evacuated all its diplomats from its embassy in the Afghan capital, and New Zealand’s government is sending a plane to help its people leave the country.

Saudi Arabia said all staff were evacuated from the embassy in Kabul on Sunday due to the changing conditions on the ground, joining other countries that have also shuttered their embassies as the Taliban advance on the Afghan capital.

New Zealand’s government says its sending a C-130 Hercules military transport plane to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of 53 New Zealanders and dozens of Afghanis and their immediate families who helped New Zealand troops when they were stationed there.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said they had so far identified 37 Afghanis who had helped, but the number of evacuees would be in the hundreds once dependents and others were included.

Defense officials say they have planned for a monthlong mission involving at least 40 military personnel tasked with servicing and protecting the plane. Ardern asked that the Taliban allow people to leave peaceably: ‘The whole world is watching,’ she said.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it has ‘temporarily closed’ its embassy in Kabul and evacuated most of its staff to an unspecified third country in the Middle East.

The ministry said a few diplomats, including Ambassador Choi Taeho, remain at a safe location in Afghanistan to support the evacuation of a South Korean national in the country and that the Seoul government is closely working with the United States and other countries to ensure their safe evacuation.

Afghanistan has been on South Korea’s travel ban list since 2007. There were reportedly around five South Koreans living in Afghanistan before the Seoul government in June called for all of them to leave the country within 10 days as the United States and NATO proceeded with troop pullouts.

Footage on Sunday captured the sound of US gunshots

Footage on Sunday captured the sound of US gunshots

It came after thousands of Afghans packed into Kabul's Hamid Karzai airport desperate for a flight out of the country

It came after thousands of Afghans packed into Kabul's Hamid Karzai airport desperate for a flight out of the country

Footage on Sunday captured the sound of US gunshots after thousands of Afghans packed into Kabul’s Hamid Karzai airport desperate for a flight out of the country

The United States had earlier released a statement with more than 65 nations urging the Taliban to let Afghans leave the country, warning of accountability for any abuses.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban and all parties to ‘exercise restraint’ and said the rights of women and girls, who suffered under the previous Taliban regime, must be protected. 

The US government has insisted in recent days that its two decades of war in Afghanistan was a success, defined by quashing the Al-Qaeda threat.

President Joe Biden also said he was determined there was no choice but to withdraw American troops, as he would not ‘pass this war’ onto another president.

But Washington was left shocked by the rapid collapse of the Afghan government, and critics have said the United States’ reputation as a global power has been badly tarnished.

‘America’s credibility as an ally is diminished,’ said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States.

The Taliban freed thousands of prisoners as they swept across the country as the police melted away in recent days. There were scattered reports of looting and armed men knocking on doors and gates.

The Taliban deployed fighters at major intersections and sought to project calm, circulating videos showing quiet city streets.

‘There were a few Taliban fighters on each and every road and intersection in the city,’ Shah Mohammad, a 55-year-old gardener, said after coming to work in the diplomatic quarter. He said there was less traffic than usual and fewer people out on the streets.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, tweeted that fighters had been instructed not to enter any home without permission and to protect ‘life, property and honor.’  

The speed of the Taliban advance has taken almost everyone by surprise and Afghans who had booked commercial flights to escape the Taliban face being forced to remain in Afghanistan.

Westerners will be evacuated by their home nations on military flights but the Taliban has said that it will not allow Afghan citizens to leave.

Tens of thousands of interpreters and officials who helped the Western-backed Afghan government are desperate to escape the country for fear of reprisals by the Taliban.

Crowds gathered at Kabul airport trying to flee the country after the Taliban swept through the capital and effectively took power in Afghanistan

Crowds gathered at Kabul airport trying to flee the country after the Taliban swept through the capital and effectively took power in Afghanistan

Crowds gathered at Kabul airport trying to flee the country after the Taliban swept through the capital and effectively took power in Afghanistan

Cars clogged the streets of Kabul

Cars clogged the streets of Kabul

Thousands of Afghans desperately tried to flee the country as the Taliban swept the capital

Thousands of Afghans desperately tried to flee the country as the Taliban swept the capital

Cars clogged the streets of Kabul as thousands of Afghans desperately tried to flee the country as the Taliban swept the capital

On Sunday the US led more than 65 nations in urging the resurgent Taliban to let Afghans leave the country, warning of accountability for any abuses. 

‘The United States joins the international community in affirming that Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so,’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter as the State Department released a statement signed by its close allies. 

‘Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility – and accountability – for the protection of human life,’ the joint statement said. 

A NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft were allowed to operate. The alliance said it was helping to keep the airport running (pictured: Scenes at Kabul airport)

A NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft were allowed to operate. The alliance said it was helping to keep the airport running (pictured: Scenes at Kabul airport)

A NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft were allowed to operate. The alliance said it was helping to keep the airport running (pictured: Scenes at Kabul airport) 

Harrowing pictures show people waiting near Kabul Airport's runway to escape from the country's capital - as the Taliban entered the presidential palace

Harrowing pictures show people waiting near Kabul Airport's runway to escape from the country's capital - as the Taliban entered the presidential palace

Harrowing pictures show people waiting near Kabul Airport’s runway to escape from the country’s capital – as the Taliban entered the presidential palace

Pictured: Chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as Taliban forces enter Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Pictured: Chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as Taliban forces enter Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Pictured: Chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as Taliban forces enter Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Pictured: Chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as Taliban forces enter Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Pictured: Chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as Taliban insurgents enter Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Images show Kabul Airport descending into chaos as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan continues

Images show Kabul Airport descending into chaos as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan continues

Images show Kabul Airport descending into chaos as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan continues

Images show Kabul Airport descending into chaos as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan continues

Images show Kabul Airport descending into chaos as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan continues

Scenes from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are pictured above

Scenes from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are pictured above

Scenes from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are pictured above

Pictured: Scenes at the airport in Kabul as the Taliban enter Afghanistan's capital

Pictured: Scenes at the airport in Kabul as the Taliban enter Afghanistan's capital

Pictured: Scenes at the airport in Kabul as the Taliban enter Afghanistan’s capital 

A NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft were allowed to operate. The alliance said it was helping to keep the airport running. 

Following a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee on Sunday, Boris Johnson his priority was to get UK nationals and Afghans who had worked with them out of the country ‘as fast as we can’.

Boris Johnson urges the West NOT to recognise Taliban government 

Boris Johnson is urging western countries to not recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and says the country must not become a ‘breeding ground for terror’, after he was seen posing for pictures with Team GB Olympians. 

The Prime Minister has earlier posed for publicity pictures with athletes at an event in London as Downing Street said ministers and senior officials would meet on Sunday afternoon to discuss the worsening situation.

And it emerged Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had flown back to Britain from his overseas holiday, breaking his silence on the war-torn country. He said the world must tell the Taliban ‘the violence must end and human rights must be protected’. 

The Foreign Office refused to say where the Foreign Secretary was but said he was expected to land in the UK today. 

Following an emergency meeting of Cobra yesterday, Mr Johnson called for a ‘united position among the like-minded’ and said it was ‘clear’ there is ‘going to be very shortly a new government in Kabul, or a new political dispensation’.

He said the situation in Afghanistan remains ‘difficult’, and the Government’s priority is ‘to make sure we deliver on our obligations to UK nationals in Afghanistan, to all those who have helped the British effort… over 20 years and to get them out as fast as we can.’ 

He told Sky News: ‘We don’t want anybody bilaterally recognising the Taliban, we want a united position amongst all the like-minded, in as far as we can get one, so that we do whatever we can to prevent Afghanistan lapsing back into being a breeding ground for terror.’ 

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‘We are going to get as many as we can out in the next few days,’ he said.

Around 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans are thought to be in the city and in need of evacuation.

When the Operation Pitting rescue operation, involving 600 troops, was announced at the end of last week, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it could carry on through the rest of the month.

However the speed of the Taliban advance suggests that there may only be a short window of a few days to get people out.

In a sign of the desperate situation the British ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was said to be helping the small team of diplomats still in the country to process the applications of those hoping to leave.

There was particular concern for the safety of Afghans who worked with British forces when they were in the country as interpreters and other roles amid fears of reprisals if they fall into the hands of the insurgents.

The Taliban insisted that they were seeking a peaceful takeover of power and were prepared to offer an amnesty to those who had worked with the Afghan government or with foreign governments.

However those assurances were being treated with deep scepticism by many British MPs amid reports of threats to those who remain and their families.

Heavily armed Taliban fighters fanned out across the capital, and several entered Kabul’s abandoned presidential palace. 

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman and negotiator, said that the militants would hold talks in the coming days aimed at forming an ‘open, inclusive Islamic government.’

But he refused to guarantee that Afghans would be allowed to leave the country, telling the BBC: ‘We need all Afghans to stay’. 

He said Taliban forces would not attack NATO teams overseeing evacuations, but said aid organisations and foreign embassies should stay, saying ‘We won’t hurt them’.

Boris Johnson has vowed to get as many as possible of the Afghans who worked with the UK out of the country as the Taliban stood poised to take control of the capital Kabul.

With President Ashraf Ghani fled, and insurgent fighters surrounding the capital, the Prime Minister said the situation was ‘extremely difficult’.

‘The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,’ Ghani said after fleeing.

After chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra contingencies committee he said the UK was determined to work with allies to prevent the country again becoming a ‘breeding ground for terror’.

Britain has sent 600 troops – including Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade – to assist in the operation.

Meanwhile other Western countries were scrambling to get their people out, with helicopters shuttling from the US embassy to the airport while smoke was seen coming from the embassy rooftop as diplomats burned sensitive material.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said earlier on Sunday that US embassy staff were ferried by helicopter from the diplomatic compound to the airport, about  5km (3 miles) away on the northeastern side of the city.

‘We’re working to make sure that our personnel are safe and secure. We’re relocating the men and women of our embassy to a location at the airport,’ Blinken told ABC news.

Asked if the evacuation was evocative of the US departure from Vietnam in 1975, he said: ‘Let’s take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.’   

A US Chinook helicopter flies over the city of Kabul as diplomatic vehicles leave the compound after the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital

Sources told Reuters that most U.S staff were expected to be evacuated from Kabul in the coming day or two.

A NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft were allowed to operate. The alliance said it was helping to keep the airport running.

France and Germany, members of NATO, said on Sunday they were moving their diplomats to the airport and sending military transport planes to Kabul to evacuate their citizens and their Afghan helpers.

A US intelligence assessment earlier in the week had said Kabul could be encircled in 30 days and could fall to the Taliban within 90 days, but the insurgents captured most of Afghanistan’s major cities in less than a week and entered the capital on Sunday.

Some 4,200 people remained in the US embassy until Thursday, when the Taliban’s rapid gains forced the Biden administration to begin flying in thousands of troops to help pull out many of the remaining diplomats.

The Taliban standing on a roadside in Kandahar after taking over more parts of Afghanistan. The scale and speed of the Taliban advance has shocked Afghans and the US-led alliance that poured billions into the country

The Taliban standing on a roadside in Kandahar after taking over more parts of Afghanistan. The scale and speed of the Taliban advance has shocked Afghans and the US-led alliance that poured billions into the country

The Taliban standing on a roadside in Kandahar after taking over more parts of Afghanistan. The scale and speed of the Taliban advance has shocked Afghans and the US-led alliance that poured billions into the country

UK military personnel boarding an RAF Voyager aircraft at RAF Brize Norton on August 14, 2021 to travel to Afghanistan

UK military personnel boarding an RAF Voyager aircraft at RAF Brize Norton on August 14, 2021 to travel to Afghanistan

UK military personnel boarding an RAF Voyager aircraft at RAF Brize Norton on August 14, 2021 to travel to Afghanistan

People wait at the airport in Kabul as the Taliban roll back into the country's capital

People wait at the airport in Kabul as the Taliban roll back into the country's capital

People wait at the airport in Kabul as the Taliban roll back into the country’s capital 

Taliban are seen inside the presidential palace in Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Taliban are seen inside the presidential palace in Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Taliban are seen inside the presidential palace in Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

The deployment included an additional 1,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, who President Joe Biden said on Saturday would help evacuate citizens and ensure an ‘orderly and safe’ drawdown of US military personnel.

On Sunday, US officials said they were weighing whether more troops were needed. Another 3,000 are on standby in Kuwait.

Washington invested billions of dollars over four US administrations in Afghan government forces, giving them advantages over the Taliban, but they were unable to defend the country in the face of the militants’ advance, Blinken told CNN.

The United States’ original mission in Afghanistan, launched to oust al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, had been fulfilled, Blinken said, saying Washington had prevented further attacks by militants harbored by the Taliban.

But Biden has faced rising domestic criticism after sticking to the plan to withdraw, which was agreed under his Republican predecessor Donald Trump. On Saturday, Biden defended his decision, saying an ‘endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me’.

Republican lawmaker Michael McCaul said a Taliban takeover would revive the threat to the United States.

‘We are going to go back to a pre-9/11 state. A breeding ground for terrorism,’ he told CNN on Sunday.

Biden met with his national security team on Sunday by secure videoconference from the presidential retreat at Camp David to hear updates on evacuations and the security situation, a White House official said.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat like Biden, said at a news conference that the safety of US personnel and of Afghans who supported the Americans should be Washington’s top concern.

‘Job number one is for us to bring back, first, all American personnel… But second, all of the brave Afghans who helped our military, they have to be provided an exit to come to America,’ Schumer said.

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