‘Everybody’s evacuating’: SA contractor tells of chaos in Kabul

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‘Everybody’s evacuating’: SA contractor tells of chaos in Kabul

Only military flights operating at Afghan capital’s airport as locals desperately try to flee the country

Senior reporter
Displaced Afghans arrive at a makeshift camp from the northern provinces desperately leaving their homes behind in Kabul.
Displaced Afghans arrive at a makeshift camp from the northern provinces desperately leaving their homes behind in Kabul.
Image: Paula Bronstein /Getty Images

A South African contractor has described apocalyptic scenes at Kabul’s airport as panicking Afghan civilians scaled the airport walls and ran amok on the airfield.

To a backdrop of machine-gun fire and US Apache gunship helicopters thudding overhead, the contractor said the flood of frightened people into the airport perimeter had resulted in commercial flights in and out of the besieged Afghan capital being cancelled.

“Everybody’s evacuating,” he said. “The airport itself is crazy, with locals trying to flee the country, which makes it difficult for the rest of us to evacuate because all commercial flights have been cancelled. Aircraft cannot land or take off with people occupying the runway.”

The locals are basically climbing over the walls at the airport, running onto the landing strip.
SA contractor

Speaking under condition of anonymity, the contractor declined to say which company he worked for and only that he had previously worked in Iraq and Mali.

Kabul airport is under military control and only military flights were operating on Monday.

Kabul has been watching anxiously as the country’s major cities fell almost without a fight during a rapid two-week offensive in the wake of the US decision to finally withdraw all its forces from the country.

“The locals are basically climbing over the walls at the airport, running onto the landing strip,” he said. “It’s chaos, trying to get them away.”

“The country was fairly calm until about two weeks ago when the Taliban started taking over the cities.”

His company had ordered its staff back to Kabul as the Taliban swept across the country and he and his colleagues were staying in a camp at the airport while waiting for a flight out.

Taliban advance elements entered the city’s outskirts on Sunday, prompting panic among its inhabitants who fear the return of a previously repressive regime.

The Taliban said it had ordered its fighters not to attack expats and that it wanted a peaceful transition.

Taliban forces were acting as de facto guards at UN compounds in Kabul to stop civilians from getting in to the facilities, he added.

“There’s no real threat to expats’ lives currently,” said the contractor.

“The Taliban have said they won’t hurt any of the expats and they want the extraction of the expats to be peaceful.

“What makes it difficult is the local Afghan people trying to flee the country ... they’ve run onto the runway, they’re trying to get out.”

It was not only people who helped the Nato and UN missions in the past 20 years who feared the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul, he added. 

“It’s everybody, because they believe that things are going to go back,”  he said as a burst of machine-gun fire erupted close by.

While the Taliban said it wanted a peaceful transition, no-one could say how the situation would unfold once the US and UN presence had gone.

There were “about 5,000 to 6,000" US troops in country and US forces had also been providing aerial support to the Afghan military to try to steam the Taliban offensive.

“What you’re hearing is Apache helicopters flying over us all the time,” he said.

The speed of the Taliban offensive had taken the US by surprise, he added. 

“I don’t think the Americans expected this. They have really handled the situation very badly. They were caught with their pants down.”

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