Kabul airport is the only exit as Taliban tighten their grip

As the Taliban attack encircles Kabul, there is increasingly only one exit for Afghan civilians fleeing the conflict and one entry for U.S. soldiers sent to protect American diplomats on the ground: Kabul’s international airport.

Kabul airport is the only exit as Taliban tighten their grip

As the Taliban attack encircles Kabul, there is increasingly only one exit for Afghan civilians fleeing the conflict and one entry for U.S. soldiers sent to protect American diplomats on the ground: Kabul’s international airport.

14 August 2021 Saturday 17:04
1844 Reads
Kabul airport is the only exit as Taliban tighten their grip

The steady stream of people travels first to the ticket sales counters located on the parking lot just outside the terminal. As they move forward, they push their luggage and load carts full of carpets, TV sets, mementos, and other items.

Lucky ones, those who were able to secure a ticket to fly anywhere in the world, will then have to wait for three hours before they can get inside the terminal. They will be saying their final goodbyes to their loved ones.

The lines are getting more and more crowded as the Taliban get closer.

Naweed Azimi, a NATO subcontractor, said, "I packed everything I could to start an entirely new life away from war." He flew to Istanbul along with his wife and five kids.

Kabul International Airport is located just northeast of the capital. It was formerly known as Hamid Karzai International Airport. This airport was named after the first president of Afghanistan following the U.S.-led overthrow in 2001 of the Taliban. The single runway can hold military aircraft. However, the entire airfield can host over 100 planes.

The airport is surrounded by perimeter fencing and protected by multiple checkpoints. It can be seen from the Afghan capital's mountains. For years, those flying out had to walk with their bags up to outdoor screening points in order to get to the terminal. This was done to avoid suicide bombings by insurgents.

The terminal would be crowded with Afghans dressed in traditional and business attire, as well as military contractors with wraparound sunglasses, and aid workers from around the globe.

This sedentary crowd has been replaced by panicked travelers rushing to leave Kabul. Airport workers stated that all seats for the next week have been booked by Afghan airlines Ariana Air and Kam Air. To leave the pandemic, anyone with a flight ticket must also undergo a coronavirus test at an appropriate clinic.

Farid Ahmad Younusi (an Afghan businessman) said that he had never seen such a rush at an airport before. He claimed that he left a $1 million contracting company and fled Kandahar, where a Taliban search party was trying to find him. "Now Taliban control everything I have worked for in the last 20 years."

It is expected that the airport rush will only get worse and more complicated.

Afghan security forces, who maintain bases at the airfield, were joined this week by some of the 3,000 American Marine and Army troops whose mission is to evacuate staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. A full evacuation of the embassy is not something that the Biden administration has ruled out. According to the State Department, the embassy had approximately 4,200 employees as of Thursday. However, most of them are Afghan nationals.

John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, stated Friday that "this is a narrowly focused, targeted mission to assist with the safe, secured movement of the reduction in civilian personnel in Kabul as well as to support the acceleration of special immigrant visa processing by the State Department." These visas are available to Afghans who have previously worked for the U.S. government but feel threatened by Taliban.

Afghans and U.S. personnel cannot count on the Taliban advancing upon Kabul. The Taliban on Saturday tightened their grip around Kabul by capturing all of Logar province, reaching just 11 kilometers (7 miles) south of the capital, Kabul.

On Friday night, passengers at the airport described paying $375 or more to ride from Kunduz in the north on unpaved roads. This was in addition to the usual $40 per person.

As Yousuf Baghban waited for his flight, he said that the cars "don’t even take breaks." "If you stop, then you're gone."

Having abandoned Bagram Air Base -- which served as the American military's main hub in Afghanistan -- ahead of the final U.S. pullout at the end of the month, the U.S. military will now have to rely on flying people out of the Kabul airport.

Kirby stated that "we will be able move thousands of people per day, but that's only the airlift capacity."

The U.S. Embassy may need to be moved to the airport if the Taliban attack Kabul. However, Ned Price, State Department spokesperson, repeatedly denied that this possibility was possible. The Kabul airport also has Turkish troops guarding the facility.

The history of the airport mirrors that country's turbulent modern times. The airport was built by Soviet engineers in 1960, as a gift. America provided its assistance during the Cold War to develop Afghanistan's airfields. Moscow made the airport a major military base after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. It was damaged in the intra-Afghan War that followed, and it became a target of U.S. airstrikes during the 2001 invasion.

The West donated tens of million dollars to rebuild the airport, and remove mines and unexploded explosives. Japan donated metal detectors to help build the new international terminal.

Commercial flights are still being operated at the airport for now. Air India, Dubai-based airlines Emirates and FlyDubai and Pakistan International Airlines, as well as Turkish Airlines, have either flights in the pipeline or are planning to fly to Kabul over the next few days. Local Afghan airlines continue flying.

However, passengers are concerned that the Taliban could strike at any time and close down the country's airspace.

Passengers rushed through security lines, lines, and other checks on Friday night to board a Kam Air flight from Istanbul to Istanbul. Tawfiq Beg (a traveler) claimed that his uncle, a commander in the militia, was killed by the Taliban three weeks ago. Beg's father sold half of his family's land at half the value to pay for his ticket.

Beg stated, "Maybe that was the last goodbye."



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