The chop of U.S. military helicopters whisking American diplomats to Kabul’s airport punctuated a frantic rush by thousands of other foreigners and Afghans to flee to safety as well, as a stunningly swift Taliban takeover entered the heart of Afghanistan’s capital.
The U.S. was pouring thousands of fresh troops into the country temporarily to safeguard what was gearing up to be a large-scale airlift. It announced late Sunday it was taking charge of air-traffic control at the airport, even as it lowered the flag at the U.S. Embassy.
Sporadic gunfire at Kabul international airport Sunday frightened Afghan families fearful of Taliban rule and desperate for flights out, in an ever-more chaotic and compressed evacuation.
U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, said in a statement Sunday it was a horrible day.
“The images coming out of Afghanistan are heartbreaking,” said the local congresswoman.
“For anyone who has been dedicated to the CT mission and especially those who served in Afghanistan, it has been especially hard and tragic.”
Spanberger said there would be “much to review, determine, and understand in the coming days and years—and as a nation, we must pursue that work.”
NATO allies that had pulled out their forces ahead of the Biden administration’s intended Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline were rushing troops back in as well this weekend, to airlift their citizens.
Some complained the U.S. was failing to move fast enough to bring to safety Afghans at risk of reprisal from the Taliban for past work with the Americans and other NATO forces.
“This is murder by incompetence,” said U.S. Air Force veteran Sam Lerman, struggling Sunday from his home in Woodbridge to find a way out for an Afghan contractor who had guarded Americans and other NATO forces at Afghanistan’s Bagram air base for a decade.
Massouma Tajik, a 22-year-old data analyst, was among hundreds of Afghans waiting anxiously in the Kabul airport to board an evacuation flight.
“I see people crying, they are not sure whether their flight will happen or not. Neither am I,” she said by phone, with panic in her voice.
Educated Afghan women have some of the most to lose under the fundamentalist Taliban, whose past government, overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, sought to largely confine women to the home.
Taliban forces moved early Sunday into a capital beset by fear and declared they were awaiting a peaceful surrender, capping a stunning sweep of Afghanistan in just the past week.
That arrival of the first waves of Taliban insurgents into Kabul prompted the U.S. to evacuate the embassy building in full, leaving only acting ambassador Ross Wilson and a core of other diplomats operating at the airport. Even as CH-47 helicopters shuttled American diplomats to the airport, and facing criticism at home over the administration’s handling of the withdrawal, Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected comparisons to the 1975 fall of Saigon.
“This is being done in a very deliberate way, it’s being done in an orderly way,” Blinken insisted on ABC’s “This Week.”
A joint statement from the U.S. State and Defense departments pledged late Sunday to fly thousands of Americans, local embassy staff and other “particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals” out of the country.
The U.N. Security Council on Monday called for an immediate halt to hostilities in Afghanistan and establishment of a new government “that is united, inclusive and representative” and that also includes women.
The council said in its first statement since the Taliban takeover that “institutional continuity and adherence to Afghanistan’s international obligations, as well as the safety and security of all Afghan and international citizens, must be ensured.”
Council members “called for an immediate end to the violence in Afghanistan” and the “restoration of security, civil and constitutional order,” as well as urgent talks to resolve the current crisis of authority and find a resolution “through an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process.”
The council—without singling out the Taliban—also called for all parties to adhere to international human rights norms and standards and “put an end to all abuses and violations.” It also called for immediate access for U.N. and other humanitarian personnel to provide aid to millions in need, “including across conflict lines.”