As thousands of civilians desperate to flee Afghanistan thronged Kabul airport’s single runway on Monday (August 16) after the Taliban seized the capital, President Joe Biden faced mounting criticism over the U.S. withdrawal.
“Afghanistan is lost … every terrorist around the world is cheering,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in his home state of Kentucky.
Crowds converged on the airport seeking to escape, including some clinging to a U.S. military transport plane as it taxied on the runway, according to footage posted by private Afghan broadcaster Tolo news.
U.S. troops fired in the air to deter people trying to force their way on to a military flight evacuating U.S diplomats and embassy staff, a U.S. official said.
Five people were reported killed in the chaos. A witness said it was unclear if they had been shot or killed in a stampede. A U.S. official told Reuters two gunmen had been killed by U.S. forces there over the past 24 hours.
A Pentagon spokesperson said there were indications that one U.S. soldier was wounded.
The Taliban’s rapid conquest of Kabul followed Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces after 20 years of war that he described as costing more than $1 trillion.
The speed at which Afghan cities fell, in days rather than the months predicted by U.S. intelligence, and fear of a Taliban crackdown on freedom of speech and human rights, especially women’s rights, have sparked criticism.
In a televised address on Monday afternoon, Biden said he did not regret his decision, insisting he had had to decide between asking U.S. forces to fight endlessly in what he called Afghanistan’s civil war or follow through on an agreement to depart negotiated by Republican former President Donald Trump.
(Production: Deborah Lutterbeck)