US troops fired warning shots Monday as they struggled to control a chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan, hours after the Taliban swept into Kabul, killing five people at the airport amid the chaos.
After a lightning offensive in which they captured one provincial capital after another before entering Kabul, the insurgents toppled the Western-backed government.
President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan, bringing a stunning end to a two-decade effort by the US and its allies to transform the country, whose security forces had collapsed even before the last American troops had left.
Thousands of Afghans fearing a return to Taliban rule have attempted to flee the country through Kabul’s international airport, where five people were killed on Monday, according to witnesses.
Hundreds of people raced across the tarmac as US troops fired warning shots into the air, according to dramatic footage circulating on social media. Another image depicted a throng of people pushing and shoving their way up a stairwell in an attempt to board a plane, with some people hanging from the railings.
It was unclear how the people died right away. According to Reuters, a US official said troops fired into the air to deter people attempting to force their way onto a military flight carrying American diplomats out of the fallen city.
It was unclear whether the five were shot or killed in a stampede, according to a witness who had been waiting for a flight out for more than 20 hours.
According to Reuters, three bodies were seen on the ground near what appeared to be an airport side entrance in video posted on social media, though the footage could not be verified. Another eyewitness told the news organization that he had seen five bodies as well.
Massouma Tajik, a 22-year-old data analyst trying to board a flight, said she heard shots from outside where a crowd of men and women were attempting to board a plane.
She claimed that after people scaled the walls and swarmed onto the tarmac, American troops sprayed gas and fired into the air to disperse the crowds. In the voice messages she sent to the Associated Press, she could hear gunshots.
Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory on Monday morning, stating that the airport’s “civilian side” had been “closed until further notice” and that the military controlled the airspace.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said the fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone.
“Life, property and honor of none shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen,” he said in a message on Twitter.
The Taliban have also stated that they will avoid the diplomatic quarter, which houses the US Embassy and the posh villas of former US-allied warlords who have fled or gone into hiding.
Officials from the Taliban said there had been no reports of clashes anywhere in the country.
“The situation is peaceful,” one said, adding that the Taliban controlled 90 percent of state buildings and that the fighters had been told to prevent any damage.